Alcohol has deep roots within Russian history and is much apart of its culture as communism, so when Gorbachev’s Anti-Alcohol Campaign began it was met with harsh criticism.16

“…measures to reduce alcohol production and sales. These included limiting the kinds of shops permitted to sell alcohol, closing many vodka distilleries and destroying vineyards in the wine-producing republics of Moldavia, Armenia and Georgia, and banning the sale of alcohol in restaurants before two o’clock in the afternoon. To set a good example, official Soviet receptions both at home and abroad became alcohol-free. Exhorting Soviet citizens to abide by these measures, Gorbachev became known as the mineral’nyi sekretar’ (mineral-water-drinking secretary) rather than general’nyi sekretar’ (General Secretary).

With these new laws led to the explosive rise of alcohol in the blackmarket. Moonshine became a very popular throughout the Soviet Union, the soviet government claimed that sales went down drastically, but what is not accounted for is the rise in moonshining. Not only did people openly disobey the laws, but the confidence in the government declined. With the government enforcement led to the rise in organized crime;

“However, the presence of illegal markets was even more essential to the existence of a mafia in the USSR.  Everyone is aware that illegal markets such as alcohol during the prohibition period or drugs today elicit organized crime, yet this association was unique in the USSR.  In the USSR, every form of economic transaction that did not involve the government concerned an illegal market.  This created a situation ripe for criminals in the Soviet Union. ”

His efforts were ultimately unsuccessful – the illicit production of moonshine, known as “samogon,” rocketed, accompanied by a sudden rise in sales of medicinal and industrial spirits. The never-popular policy was later quietly dropped.

Not only did Gorbachev when he initiated this anti-Alcohol campaign stopped the flow of alcohol, but also the revenue of several billion rubles. “…it was a serious blow to the state budget (a loss of approximately 100 billion rubles to the exchequer according to Alexander Yakovlev) after alcohol production migrated to the black market economy.





  • jessrs217 says:

    This was a really interesting post. I didn’t know that Russia had enacted laws prohibiting alcohol, similar to the Prohibition laws in the United States. I’m not surprised that it did not end up being a success, it seems that the effects that the US suffered are similar if not the same as those that occurred in the Soviet Union in response to their anti-alcohol campaign.

  • rwinkler says:

    As the post before me stated, this is a lot like the prohibition laws seen in the United States. Nothing usually good comes from banning alcohol. People always seem to find other ways to get a drink. Russia was no different. Good post on a topic that really did effect the fabric of society.

  • Annemarie Lucernoni says:

    Its kind of interesting that Gorbachev would include this policy in his repertoire of new reforms. All his other reforms revolved around liberalization and some privatization of industries, as well as making some amends with Western relations. This policy was obviously going to be wildly unpopular, and on top of that was removing an important industry from the legitimate economy during a time when Soviet economy needed all the help it could get. It just doesn’t seem to make any sense, political or economic.

  • court18 says:

    I think that with alcoholism and associated problems (absenteeism, infidelity, etc.) at such high levels in the Soviet Union, something had to be done. Although it is easy to compare the Prohibition and the Soviet anti-alcohol campaign and say that Gorbachev should have known better, we often do not learn lessons from history so easily. To play devil’s advocate, the same thing could be said in regards to getting involved in Afghanistan (except in this case the United States did not learn its lesson from Soviet History). I appreciate Gorbachev’s intentions to combat the problems associated with alcohol consumption, but of course I agree that it could have been done better. In my opinion, a better solution would have been promoting safe alcohol consumption and raising awareness about how to drink responsibly. In addition to this, it would have beneficial to offer more programs designed to help alcoholics instead of shaming them through propaganda and the press.

  • carastombock says:

    The comment above me is very insightful into comparing Prohibition/Anti-Alcohol Campaign and both U.S. and Soviet involvement in Afghanistan. It’s true that we don’t often learn from history until after the fact. I also agree that actions certainly needed to be taken, but banning something is never the way to ensure that the problem will be solved. Advocacy, education, and promoting healthier lifestyles could have been more efficient. It seemed, though, that the Soviet way is to censor and prohibit so this policy only made sense at the time.

    • Eric schneider says:

      I would have to agree by banning something people tend to accept this reverse psychology in which they want to do the very thing that is prohibited to them. This became the case with alcoholism, the best case is to promote the safe use of consumption and place greater restrictions on the manufacturers rather than the consumers. History people tend to think is something of the past but that is the farthest from the truth, it places a direct role in the future no matter how much you may want it not to.

  • jrc554 says:

    Very interesting post on a topic that probably goes overlooked more often then not. Soviets just seem to have a knack for instituting policies that end up backfiring and hurting them in some sort of way, whether it be politically, socially, or economically, and in this case, the attempted ban on alcohol was detrimental to all three of these factors.

  • free picture says:

    I do enjoy the manner in which you have framed this specific problem plus it does indeed present me a lot of fodder for consideration. Nonetheless, because of everything that I have personally seen, I really trust as the actual feed-back pack on that folks remain on point and don’t get started upon a tirade involving the news of the day. Still, thank you for this superb piece and though I do not agree with the idea in totality, I respect the viewpoint.

Leave a Reply