In Russia: A History, by Gregory L. Freeze, the text discusses the notions behind and the results of Mikhail Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign. Freeze deliberates on Gorbachev’s intentions, and highlights the difficulties the campaign faced in its effort to make the nation sober. The text reads as follows:

As the new general secretary consolidated power, he was not primarily seeking to transform the existing system but rather to make it more efficient. He

initially laid a heavy emphasis on ‘discipline’. That included a campaign against corruption, much in the spirit of Andropov, but broadened to include not

just venality but also the violations of work discipline and alcoholism which bore such heavy costs for the nation’s health and economy. The anti-alcoholism

entailed its own high costs, including the destruction of valuable vineyards, a sharp decrease in state revenues, and a boom in the production of untaxed

(and unsafe) moonshine. The campaign also elicited popular discontent: in a sputtering economy rife with defitsity (deficit consumer goods), alcohol had

absorbed the surplus money in circulation, but Gorbachev’s temperance campaign severely aggravated the ubiquitous problem of deficit goods (453-454).

James von Geldern, in a subject essay on the site Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, similarly emphasizes the disastrous results of the Soviet anti-alcohol campaign. Von Geldern concludes, “While the anti-alcohol campaign may well have resulted in a decline in alcohol consumption, it also precipitated a sharp rise in the production of moonshine (samogon) and, like Prohibition in the United States, an increase in organized crime. Instances of alcohol poisoning also rose, as hard drinkers turned to other, more dangerous, substances. No less serious was the decline in state revenues, which created a budgetary imbalance. This was overcome by resort to printing more money, which fueled inflation. For all these reasons, the campaign was abandoned after 1987”.

          Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign, as von Geldern suggests, won minor victories but suffered major defeats. Alcohol consumption rates dropped overall, but the price paid for this apparent success adversely affected both the state and its people. Ultimately, the campaign failed because it never sold sobriety well enough to the Soviet people. This, however, did not result from a lack of trying.

          One way in which the anti-alcohol campaign pushed its agenda was through propaganda and posters. These posters featured numerous messages, as well as drawings illustrating the evils of drinking. Anti-alcohol posters used as propaganda for the campaign’s agenda tout captions like “Alcohol is the enemy of reason”, “Have pity on your future child!”, “To health?” (this phrase typically used in drinking when making a toast), and “Get the drunks out of the workplace!”

Vodka Brings with It...Degeneracy, laziness, job absence, hooliganism, crime.

Vodka Brings with It…Degeneracy, laziness, job absence, hooliganism, criworkplace!”.

The images used convey a sense of impending doom to the people who consume alcohol and their families. Many, similar to Prohibition propaganda posters in the United States, plead to alcohol consumers to stop drinking for the sake of children. All posters portray the perils of drinking and alcoholism in society, the workplace, and at home.

          The anti-alcohol campaign also utilized the Soviet Press to further its goals. One article, entitled “ALCOHOL IS THE ENEMY OF SOCIETY: NO INDULGENCE!”, denounces drinking and refers to alcoholism using terms like “a shameful phenomenon”. The article also calls for harsher treatment of alcoholics and features various letters from concerned citizens who share the sentiment. The article quotes a letter to the editor, saying:

‘How long must we bail them out, try to persuade them to change their ways, and treat them? The addiction

treatment centers and therapy-and-labor rehabilitation centers spend a lot of time on them and waste

expensive, scarce medicine on them. The question arises: Just what are they being treated for?

Undisciplined parasitism, absenteeism and hooliganism? But there’s just one remedy for these ‘ailments’ —

punishment. They must receive treatment in the mines and the logging camps, be held to a strict regime, and

fed a semistarvation diet — then, perhaps, all this nonsense will be driven out of them. Every alcoholic is a potential criminal.

They must be treated with the most resolute severity.’ Alevtina Andreyevna ends her letter with an impassioned

“Get the drunks out of the workplaces!”

“Get the drunks out of the workplaces!”

appeal: “Protect society from drunkards! They won’t leave us in peace!

The article finishes with a foreboding warning about how ‘drunkards’ will be treating in dry Soviet society. It threatens, “Drunks can expect truly nationwide condemnation. There will be no forgiveness, no indulgence, for them — that’s how rural toilers have interpreted the new resolution.” This article, and others like it in the Current Digest of the Soviet Press, were used to promote the anti-alcohol campaign by shaming those who drink and calling for others do the same.

          Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign, though furthered by propaganda posters and the Soviet press, was also subject to various limiting factors. For example, the campaign was hindered by the music of some artists. Found here on the Seventeen Moments site, a song by Vladimir Vysotskii details a man’s drunken experiences one night. The song is described as producing “laughter, empathy, and maybe a trifle of envy in many listeners – those for whom the dry law would become a source of irritation”. Songs like Vysotskii’s illustrated that drunken exploits could be a source of entertainment and comedy, not just a source of shame.

          In addition to this, newspaper articles found in the Current Digest of the Soviet Press reveal some short-comings of the anti-alcohol campaign. One article, entitled “ALCOHOL IS SOCIETY’S ENEMY: VILLAIN WITH NO STIGMA”, describes frustration over the lackadaisical treatment of some individuals found guilty of home-brewing illegal moonshine. The article purports, “A strange logic is at work here: Homemade liquor, when discovered in the kitchen of its maker, is grounds for criminal prosecution, yet home brew on the table for celebrations with family and friends is considered quite normal?!” This article brings to light the fact that the government was not uniform in its execution of the anti-alcohol campaign and violators of it.

"To health?"

“To health?”

          Another article from the digest reveals further problems with the campaign. In the article named “A TIMELY INTERVIEW: A GLASS OF BEER — WITHOUT THE ALCOHOL”, an interview with a department head in the USSR Ministry of the Food Industry’s Beer and Nonalcoholic Beverages Industry Administration shows the difficulty of making alternative products to replace alcohol available on a mass scale. He states, “The stores…are reluctant to sell them. The reason for this is simple. Until recently it has been much easier to sell one crate of vodka than 15 creates of a nonalcoholic beverage. The profit is the same, and it requires only one-fifteenth as much handling”.

          Furthermore, he reveals larger problems within the economic system of the Soviet Union. In numerous sections of the article he mentions the disunion of the goals of his department and those of other sectors of the state-controlled economy. He states things like “It is the Ministry of Trade that has been extremely reluctant to order our products”, “We were ready to produce it four years ago, but the Ministry of Trade declined. It claimed that the product wouldn’t sell and would just gather dust on the shelves”, and “Unfortunately, the matter never went beyond the experimental stage. The Ministry of the Chemical Industry refused to manufacture it”.

          This lack of harmony between different sectors of the economic system is one factor that contributed to the failure of the anti-alcohol campaign. Because alcohol played such a large role in Soviet society and every-day life, the government would need to effectively produce alternatives to replace it when it was taken away. This article shows how the state found difficulty in doing so, and could be used to show how these internal economic problems can extrapolate when the collapse of the Soviet Union is taken into account when conducting an analysis.