A&E presents: Russian Moonshiners

No matter what try to write about in this class, I always end up making some sort of connection to a moment in American history. While the order in which they appear and the outcomes may be completely different, society still tends to play the same cards. Of of the most hilarious similarities I have found is in the mini-Russian Prohibition is the 1980’s.

In 1985, the USSR found that its iconic drink, vodka, was leading to a drastic rise in child abuse, people not showing up to work, and workplace accidents. On the other hand, alcohol tax was bringing in more revenue than income taxes. Gorbachev, being the proactive leader that he is, decided that it was probably a good time to limit the Soviet people from receiving their favorite drink. This did not bring a good response. Typical communism…picking the route that doesnt make money.

Gorbachev’s campaign against consuming alcohol led to bigger problems such as high increase in crime from the new black alcohol market and deaths from people trying to use surrogate alcohols (i.e. hand sanitizer, mouth wash, antifreeze).



Popular Russian Eau de Cologne “Тройной” (Troynoy; Triple)


One of the most amazing stories about bootleg alcohol in Russia is in a documentary report telling the story of a self proclaimed “sober town.” in the report it says,

“You would never guess who turned out to be the owner of the home-made miracle-working machines. It was M. M. Sodyl, Communist and leader of a crop-growing team, a member of the local organization of the Voluntary Society for the Struggle for Sobriety, and in addition a deputy on the Nedanchinskii Village Soviet. Believe it or not, at this “teetotaler’s” premises the controllers found 80 liters of moonshine brew and 17 liters of 45-proof first-brew moonshine (piervak).”

I find it amazing that even the self proclaimed big-rig Soviets did not agree with the decisions going down the ladder.




Give Me Latvia or Give Me Death

Once all the dust had settled from the tragedy that was WW1, three nation-states emerged in Northeastern Europe: Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania. These three countries lived in relative peace from other nations until 1939 when Stalin and Hitler made a backroom deal that not only angered these Baltic nations, but the rest of the world. Knowing that two overpowered dictators with terrible mustaches cannot be be friends, anyone could predict that one of them would violate this agreement. Hitler quickly turned his back on Stalin and took these countries by force. Since the USSR had the almighty backup of the United States, the USSR managed to take them back again in 1944 on their way to the Reichstag. Poor little Latvia had to live with their communist big brother for the next 45 years.


Left: Location of Latvia, Right: Russians entering Riga in 1940 (Wikipedia)


Right about the time Van Halen started falling apart and Rap music was somehow becoming popular, the Democratic ideals starting becoming more popular throughout the Latvian S.S.R. This can be seen in the Latvian Declaration of independence. This document, which sounds obviously familiar, has to have been influenced by western ideologies. In the section listing the things that the Soviet government has ignored, it says:

“that all individuals and nations have inalienable rights, which include the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, social progress, and improvement of the standard of living,”

If this quote doesn’t sound remotely similar to the American Declaration of Independence, then you probably have not read it or you didn’t show up to 4th grade history class.

This document goes on and on listing to the things that the USSR blatantly ignored. The document states,

“For seven centuries, Latvians have been subjugated to ruthless national and social oppression, the rights of the Latvian nation to original development and national self-determination have been brutally violated. The Latvian nation has, however, survived, endured, preserving its uniqueness, its language, and its national culture. The struggle of the workers of Latvia for social emancipation, ethnic equality, and self-determination created the opportunity in the years 1917-1920 to establish a Soviet national loyalty, but afterwards an independent democratic Republic, which was recognized by Soviet Russia under Lenin’s rule, as well as many other nations of the world.”

These nationalist ideas were suppressed for years under rulers such as Stalin and Khrushchev. Just like the Americans under the British, the Latvian’s nationalism eventually came out the woodwork.

To this day, Lativa is a democratic nation and a member of NATO. While it had difficulty transitioning its economy from communist to a more liberal, capitalist system, it is now on track as a member of the EU. Latvia’s nationalism has lead to it being one of the more successful nation-states in this world.





The Soviet Vietnam

During the mid 70’s when the United States was still licking its wounds from the Vietnam War, the Soviet Union was still fat and happy about their success. Still trying to increase their hold on the modern world, the Soviets, under Brezhnev turned their eyes to Central Asia.

In 1973, the Prime Minister of Afghanistan, Mohammad Daoud Khan, overthrew the monarchy of Afghanistan. The majority of people in Afghanistan supported Mohammad as a leader, but in 1978, the military of Afghainstan had grown sympathetic to Communist supporters led by Nur Muhammad Taraki. Taraki, with the help of the military, became president in 1978 and was quickly overthrown by his Deputy Prime Minister, Hafizullah Amin.

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Amin, left and Taraki, right

Afghanistan, with a fresh new government being installed in 1978, (DRA), the Soviets saw a great opportunity to “enlighten” another country. Because the DRA, or the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, was not very popular with the native population, assistance was requested from the Soviets to quell the rebellion. To make the situation much more Soviet, Brezhnev has Amin assassinated and puts in Amin’s political rival, Babrak Karmal.



During the government take over and assassination of Amin in December 1979, Russian troops and KGB agents came into Afghanistan dressed as DRA soldiers and infiltrated the government, media, and military buildings.



Russian soldiers entering Afghanistan

Because Karmal is Amin’s political rival, the country now lacks the support of the majority of the regular population and half of the communists who overthrew the government in the first place. This is a very bad way for the Russians to begin planting seeds for a Soviet supporting government.

As the Soviets turned themselves into an occupational force, the people of Afghanistan who did not support them turned into the Mujahideen. The word Mujahideen is an Arabic word meaning “strugglers” which is derived from another Arabic word, Jihad, meaning “The Struggle.” The strong supporters of Islam within Afghanistan saw it as their duty to oust the secular, Soviet government and implement an Islamic government which aligns with their religion. The Mujahideen fighters used guerrilla tactics taught and supported by the western, NATO countries.



Picture portraying Mujahideen soldiers taking down a Russian Helicopter

The Mujahideen used these tactics with great success and bankrupted the Soviets by 1989 under Mikhail Gorbachev. The Soviets could no longer afford to be in Afghanistan with more than one aircraft being shot down per day on top of the never-ending cost of war.

To solidify the end, Sibghatullah Mojaddedi was put into power under a Islamic government. Mojaddedi reached diplomatic successes with the West and secured funding for the continued resistance from the shambles of the DRA and Soviet forces. The Soviet forces were completely gone from Afghanistan by 1989 with theGeneva Accords.


In my opinion, there was no win here for the East or the West. The people of Afghanistan were looking to build an Islamic government with no outside influence. The aid the West gave to the Mujahideen, in turn trained them to fight against us (as the Taliban) in the past 14 years once we started trying things similar to the Soviets in the late 70’s. This is still a current problem in Afghanistan.






Meat, Margarine, and Murder

The Soviet Union has always been known for their quick draw reflexes to silence anyone within their sovereignty who vocalized dissent to their reign. One of these moments to mention is the Novocherkassk massacre of 1962. This massacre was the result of a locomotive manufacturing workers protest because of rising food prices.



One of the locomotives manufactured by the protestors

To start out it is important to discuss the current issues in Russia causing the rise in prices of meat and butter. According to The Current Digest of the Russian Press, the Soviet agricultural sector was actually seeing increases in production. To counter this:

“The Soviet economy is developing swiftly. The population of our country, especially the urban population, is growing very rapidly. Between 1953 and 1961 it rose by 29,000,000, of whom 28,000,000 are city dwellers. The money income of the working people has been rising year by year. In 1961 it was 42,000,-000,000 rubles, or 87%, higher than in 1953.”

This led to high demand for the basics of Soviet diets, meat and butter. And what’s worse than getting your communist, sub-par rib eye? When the same communist who gives you the sub-par rib eye makes you pay more for it. The Soviet government could easily raise the prices of alcohol, tobacco, and other non-essential products in order to sustain the prices of essential items needed by the people.

On June 1, locomotive workers took their stand on these ridiculous increases by marching onto the Communist Party’s headquarters in the center of Novocherkassk. The steadfast protesters were met with unexpected gunfire and 26 protestors were killed and 87 were wounded. To top this off, in a top-secret KGB report, they described the protestors as “not reflecting the views of the greater population” and “reacting to minimal increases in the price of meat and butter.”

As this shows, when the government cannot trust the people to express their own opinion, they have to exercise in the taking of human life and make an example. While this kind of scare tactic can help in the short run to create peace, it never works out over the long haul.


Putin visiting the memorial site in 2008






Crimea River

In recent news and occurrences, the word Crimea has become a common word exchanged between persons when talking about the foreign policy of the United States. The peninsula, to the south of mainland Ukraine, is the homeland of years of violence of political and cultural beliefs. The majority of people living there, ethnic Russians, apparently wish to leave Ukraine and become part of mainland Russia. Contrary to popular belief and the portrayal of the media, Crimea has not always been a part of Ukraine. In 1954, to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Ukraine, the USSR mandated the RSFSR (Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic) to give the Crimean Peninsula to the Ukrainian SSR (Source 1). This may sound confusing because, despite Ukrainian sovereignty being a figment of their own imagination, they were still their own separate state.


Because the natural born people of Crimea, the Tatars, were deported to the “Stans” shortly after WW2 because of their support to fascist Germany, the land was packed with ethnic Russians to help support Russia’s large Black Sea Fleet as Sevestapol. The leaders of Russia were not worried about losing support in Crimea.

So why even make this exchange if you have you’re not worried? Because Ukraine has a natural disposition to being controlled. Like we have discussed in class lately, the nation of Ukraine is strong, but the State of Ukraine has always been weak. From Mongols to Soviets, the Ukrainians have been controlled for most of their existence. The Soviets could see that the Ukrainian people were ready to break free of a controlled society early on and decided to reward them with a little spark of nationalism. Again, why do the Soviets even care about this piece of land? Because Ukraine is the agricultural powerhouse of Russia.

In the mid 1950’s Ukraine was seeing a large increase in agricultural productivity. According to the digest of Soviet Literature, “Some 142,000,000 poods more grain were delivered or sold to the state than in 1956, and more than 346,000,000 poods of the main food crop, wheat, were received.”(Source 2) Russia could not afford to cut themselves off from a supply of food this large, especially in a communist society that lacks motivation.


Russia has hung on to Crimea by a thread in the last 20 years since Ukraine has had a government with more eastern ties. But, now that it is fairly evident that Ukraine has started an irrecoverable lean towards western society, it was time to claim back what has always been theirs in the first place.


Source 1: http://soviethistory.macalester.edu/index.php?page=article&ArticleID=1954anniver1&SubjectID=1954crimea&Year=1954

Source 2: http://dlib.eastview.com.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu:8080/search/simple/doc?art=16&id=13761464


Rehabilitation of Cossack Divisions

The life of Russians in the 1930’s is truly interesting. The people of Russia have finally become one with their halfway communistic society. Although a large majority of people had become adjusted to the Soviet, certain portions of society weren’t warming up to the Reds like everyone else. One of these groups is the well-known Cossacks.


As we have seen in our previous lessons in Russian history, the Cossacks have been a group that actually sort of supported the monarchy (not so much support, but definitely some animosity towards the Bolsheviks) during the civil war. Because the Cossacks supported the Whites during the war, the Reds decided that it would be beneficial to the cause to completely cut the Cossacks out of any sort of military training; therefore, they could not obtain the skills necessary to start any sort of rebellion. Now that Stalin is in control in the 1930’s and has collectivized everything, people have started to lose motivation to work hard because they have “lost” all of their property (possibly a natural flaw of communism). This is much more likely with groups (the Cossacks) who are not being treated equally long with others. In order to fix this problem, the mandate stating that Cossacks could not serve in the armed forces was repealed. After the mandate was repealed a report was made saying, “Before the discussion of the Government’s decision to lift restrictions on service in the RKKA, kolkhoz farmer Roman Brekhov of Brigade No. 2 at the KIROV Kolkhoz under the Mrykhovskii Village Soviet did no more than 5 hectares of row planting, but the day after a study session on the Government’s decision and the order by the People’s Commissar he began to do 7.8 hectares of planting in a shift without changing oxen.” By creating an option for Cossack men to be able to fight and do the communist state a service, the Soviet government successfully created a more positive work atmosphere for Cossack men. This is essentially a double whammy for the Russians. With WW2 on the horizon, the Russian army was going to need these men much more than they originally intended with the undoing of this mandate.


Although not all the Cossacks sided with the Russians during the upcoming war, I am sure that the reinstating of the Cossacks in the Soviet Army helped to put a handle on a majority of their population. The Russians could have easily silenced the Cossacks, but instead decided to not make them an example and try to embrace their faction as a means of support for the Soviet cause.






Rozalina the Riveter: Women Roles in the Russian Revolution

Russia really became an interesting place during March/February(who really cares you get the point) of 1917. For the first time in Russian history, the the common people were finally having their voice heard. Surprisingly, out of the woodwork the voice of the Russian women was heard the loudest. The women of Russia demanded to have equal rights just as men. On March 8th 1917, the women of Russia stood in the streets of Petrograd, virtually shutting down all industry in the industrial powerhouse. The women demanded bread for their starving children and to returned their war-torn husbands to theirs homes. The ladies shouted in the streets, “DOWN WITH THE GERMAN WOMAN” (because Alexandra was a German princess before marrying Nick so it kind of complicates things when she’s leading your country against the Germans).


Like women in WW2 in the United States, the Russian women had been dominating Russian Industry while large-mustached husbands were fighting against the Kaiser. Russian women saw that their control in society was no different from a males because they could the same things. Socialism definitely helps back this liberating ideology. Women Socialist groups became the norm and started acting’s like their own sort of Union. The women would ban together whenever Russian industry would make moves that didn’t work in their favor. Since biology says that roughly half of people in the world are females, this really helped to mobilize the Russian population in the Anti-Czar campaign.


After the people of Russia successfully abdicated the throne of the Czar, the temporary government dramatically increased the women’s role in Russian society. They increased it so much that the temporary government formed “The Battalions of Death.” These battalions were compromised 100% of women from officers to enlisted men. Since these battalion were kind of slapped together in a liberating frenzy, there was not much success on the battle-front. Since the war was going to come to an end as soon as the Bolsheviks stepped in, their time o the front-line was short lived. However little role these women played in the actual war effort, the idea of their service to their nation is truly awe-inspiring.

Women in revolutionary Russia played a role that had never been seen before. This movement of women has inspired women worldwide (including the United States) to step up and take an active role in choosing their destiny.





The Japanese Butt-Kicking

The early 20th Century was full of ideas and actions dealing with imperialism. The ideas and the people of Europe were now spread to all corners of the globe. Since the ideas of imperialism include reaping raw materials from foreign nations with the idea of making money, a lot of people around the world, especially on the far-eastern side of Asia, were very upset by this. Japan was one of these countries. The people of Japan decided that since all these western powers can come through and take lands for them to develop power, we could too. At the same time, Russia was trying to increase the spread of their landmass by going into modern-day North Korea and Manchuria. Russia needed these lands to have grasp of a non-frozen water port in the Pacific Ocean (Sound familiar? Hint-Hint Crimea).

The Russians and the Japanese tried to come to an agreement on which lands their respective countries would leave alone and which lands they would have involvement in. The Japanese offered the Russians full influence in Manchuria in exchange, the Russians would pull out of Korea. These agreements ultimately failed and Japan made a pre-eminent, naval attack against the Russians in February of 1904.

The Russian navy had secured a port named Port Arthur on the coast of Manchuria. The Russians were leasing this port from the Chinese government in order to have a year round warm water port. The Japanese saw the strategic influence of the port and decided to attack. This initial attack damaged two of the Russian Navy’s best battle ships, the Tsesarevich and Retvizan, and cost them their best naval strategist, Vice Admiral Stepan Makarov. The Russian Navy was in shambles and their ground forces were pulverized at the Battle of Yalu River in May of 1904. Almost all the Russian forces at this point were driven back to Port Arthur.

The year of 1905 was much worse for the Russians. At the Battle of Mukden, the Russians lost 90,000 men and lost massive amounts of support for the war. This worsened with the loss of 8 battleships and five thousand men at the Naval Battle of Tsushima. The soldiers became even more demotivated with the Revolution of 1905 going on in the home front.


The war was essentially lost for Russia. Without much support and incompletion of the Trans-Siberian Railroad, the war was impossible to win. Tsar Nicholas II, as usual, was a fairly incompetent leader and made many wrong decisions when trying to conduct the war. On September 5th 1905, mediated by President Teddy Roosevelt, the Russians and Japanese met in Portsmouth, New Hampshire to discuss a peace treaty. The Treaty of Portsmouth was signed and Russia completely pulled out of Port Arthur and the Korean Peninsula









Big Country, Not Enough Guns


When I first looked at this photo, all I saw was a family of Russians from Zlatoust, near the Ural Mountains. After reading the caption next to the picture and seeing the what this family’s job in the Russian society was, it became evident to me that that these three people were much more than just a family. Towns like Zlatoust , which made armaments for the Russian military, were imperative to the Imperial Russian society in the wary 20th Century.

The world of weapons was changing radically in the European world. The Germans recently released the Mauser in 1888 and the British released the Lee-Enfield bolt-action rifle in 1889. Revolutionary weapons like the Lee-Enfield and the Mauser tremendously increased the firepower of nations such as Britain and Germany.Russia could not afford to fall behind the other world powers in the industrial race during the dawn of The Great War.

To combat their lack in firepower, Russian Captain, Sergei Mosin developed the Mosin Nagant bolt-action rifle. While not as accurate as the Mauser and the Lee-Enfeild, the Mosin Nagant was very cheap to manufacture and extremely durable in the field.

The family in the picture above comes into importance because there was an extreme lack of people who were skilled manufacturing workers. The land of Russia was tied in the hands of the aristocrats who were making plenty of money selling grain to western countries; therefore, keeping Russia an agrarian state. Ideas of industrialization were often proposed, but rarely were they put into action by the Czar or the wealthy aristocrats. Holding up industrialization had serious negative effects once The Great War started.

The lack of industrial action led to only a small amount of manufactured rifles for the soldiers on the front. Russian soldiers marched into battle with pitchforks to combat the Germans who were armed with the Mauser. Consequently, the Russian death rate was very high. The death of fathers, husbands, brothers, and cousins was frowned upon by the proletariat class of Russians which led to soldiers dropping their weapons to go home and join the Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution.

If Imperial Russia would have more readily embraced industrialization and created more towns like Zlatoust, the leaders of Russia could have had better armed their soldiers and prevented communism from ever taking over the country.



Russian industrialisation