From Vodka to Water

It was a particularly tough time in Russia from 1985 to 1987. This was due to the fact that Mikhail Gorbachev had issued an anti-alcohol campaign throughout the entire Soviet Union. Alcohol was linked to extremely high levels of child-abuse, suicide, divorce, accidents at work, and a rise in mortality rates among men. However, alcohol was a huge part of Soviet culture. It was used for celebrations and bonding between friends. It also helped the Russian economy tremendously. In 1979, the Soviet Union gained 25.4 rubles from the sale of alcoholic drinks. They did this by placing monopolies on the production and distribution of alcohol. Once May 1985 arrived, the way alcohol was viewed changed drastically.

An anti-alcohol campaign poster
An anti-alcohol campaign poster

The shops that sold alcohol were limited severely. Many state-owned vodka-distilleries were closed. Vineyard for wine production were destroyed and closed. Restaurants were no longer allowed to sell alcohol before 2 in the afternoon. The Soviet government officials became alcohol-free in order to set a positive example. This is how Gorbachev became known as the ‘mineral-water drinking secretary’, as opposed to the ‘General Secretary’.

An anti-alcohol campaign poster
An anti-alcohol campaign poster

The anti-alcohol campaign had huge ramifications on the country. Alcohol consumption dropped by 50%. However, moonshine production increased sharply as well as organized crime. The amount of deaths from alcohol poisoning increased as well because people turned to other substances to get drunk. The large profits that the government had earned from alcohol production and consumption disappeared. The economy suffered, and more money was printed in order to help. The consequence of that was high levels of inflation. All of these problems resulted in the repealing of the campaign in 1987.

Works Cited:

T. Boikova, Rationing Vodka. March 27, 1987. Sovetskaia Rossiia, 27 March 1987.

Images: Yuri Matrosovich: Museum of Anti-Alcohol Posters. 1996.

8 thoughts on “From Vodka to Water

  1. Another interesting point is how much this campaign really affected the economy, the USSR was very dependent on that revenue and by suddenly cutting that off meant a serious decline in funds-billion dollar industry.

  2. It’s always certainly interesting to see how intertwined the economy was with the alcohol market in the Soviet Union. Our group on Thursday did a brief post on this, but did not take into account fully the fact that the country would now have been lacking the revenue streams they had been getting prior to the anti-alcohol campaign.

  3. Alcohol creates a very interesting dynamic in countries throughout the world. The dangers of alcohol in advancing societies cannot be overlooked and so countries like the USSR and the US make efforts to cut it out to solve these issues. However, as soon as efforts are made to eradicate alcohol, the problems surrounding the substance just change shape. It is just one of those things that will always create problems and the world’s best hope is to find the balance between the controls and freedoms associated with alcohol. Good post.

  4. I can not think of a single scenario in which removing alcohol from Russia would ever work, not to mention be a good idea. Surely Gorbachev knew there would be ramifications for such a monumental decision, yet he continued with it anyways.

  5. The removal of alcohol from the Soviet Union went over about as well as it went in the United States in the 1920’s and 30’s. People thought alcohol was bad when it was legal, and then they saw true crime and destitution once it became illegal. It’s interesting to be able to compare this policy in both nations and how they came about 50 years apart from each other.

  6. I do think that alcohol was and still is a problem in Russia. However, getting rid of it was not a successful strategy. I think if Gorbachev had worked to change the drinking culture in Russia the plan to curb problems caused by alcohol would have been much more successful.

  7. Must have been great to learn about this topic. Hearing some personal views on it by the people may have been insightful and humorous if you didn’t look at some already.

  8. I liked this post, I thought that it was really interesting. I especially liked the statistic you gave that the campaign caused alcohol consumption to drop by fifty percent, but then matched it with the fact that there was also a sharp increase in moonshine production and organized crime. I think its a good contradiction that shows that these kinds of anti-alcohol or prohibition campaigns don’t actually do any good. While they may cause a drop in legal drinking, it is always followed by an increase in illegal activity that is just as bad, if not worse for the country than what they were trying to get rid of in the first place.

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