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The Soviet Union- BYOB

Alcohol in the Soviet Union has historically been a prevalent factor in not only Soviet culture, but also in Soviet economics. Russian Tsars encouraged the consumption of alcohol to the people of their empire as a means to increase economic income.  From a cultural standpoint the Soviets have always used alcohol as a means of developing community and social bonds with each other. “The consumption of alcohol has deep cultural roots in Russia where it typically accompanied celebrations, signified hospitality, and enhanced bonding among acquaintances and friends” (Seventeen Moments in History, Geldern). However, in May of 1985 Mikhail Gorbachev, the recently elected General Secretary of the Communist Party, initiated his campaign for the elimination of alcohol utilization. “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.” (Seventeen Moments in History, Geldern). The wine-producing republics of Moldavia dated back to the late 1800’s and were founded by Czar Nicholas II who used the wine to supply his palace. Since then the management of the Crimean Vineyards had been magnified and used to supply the Soviets for almost a hundred years until they were destroyed by Gorbachev.

The title of the 1962 poster is “Brought to the Hospital,” and the text on the bottle reads “horilka,” a Ukrainian term for vodka

During the initiation of the anti-alcohol campaign, the people of the Soviet Union were facing drastic health issues. Because of Soviet culture, Alcoholism had become a legitimate threat to the well-being of many citizens in the Soviet Union. “Alcoholism, however, was a major scourge in Soviet society, linked to high rates of child-abuse, suicide, divorce, absenteeism, and accidents on the job, and contributing to a rise in mortality rates particularly among Soviet males that was detected in the 1970s” (Seventeen Moments in History, Geldern). Through the development of science and research in the 70’s, these issues were brought to the attention of the Soviet government. Gorbachev created a partial prohibition until 1987 when the campaign was abandoned due to the economic impact it had. Although the campaign was a success in regard to the health benefits the economy was greatly damaged. It was largely seen as the most determined and effective plan to date: The birthrate rose, life expectancy increased, wives started seeing their husbands more, and work productivity improved” ( The Atlantic, Fedun). The reduction in the purchase of alcohol caused a large decline in the state tax income for the Soviet economy. The state taxes that were placed on alcohol were a large part of the economy.  “By the 1970s, receipts from alcohol again constituted a third of government revenues. One study found that alcohol consumption more than doubled between 1955 and 1979, to 15.2 liters per person” (The Atlantic, Fedun). Despite Gorbachev’s campaign, alcoholism still held its dominance in Russian culture. After the prohibition movement ended the Russian people’s health status and economy returned to its original status.

“His palette is rather broad, from kerosene to varnishes. And no one has been able to figure out so far how to talk sense into such a … ‘connoisseur’!”

Work Cited:

“Anti-Alcohol Campaign.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, 2 Sept. 2015, soviethistory.msu.edu/1985-2/anti-alcohol-campaign/.

Fedun, Stan. “How Alcohol Conquered Russia.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 25 Sept. 2013, www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/09/how-alcohol-conquered-russia/279965/.

MacFARQUHAR, NEIL, New York Times (1923-Current file); May 29, 2014; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times pg. A12

“Prohibition, Soviet Style: Propaganda Posters from the 1980s.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 28 Apr. 2017, www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/la-ca-cm-soviet-posters-20170430-htmlstory.html.

6 Responses so far.

  1. Caroline Ritchey says:

    Great post! The anti-alcohol campaign is a really interesting time in Soviet history, especially considering the association most people make between Russia and alcohol. I like how you pointed out that despite some social successes, it was the economic losses that really forced them to reverse the policy. Did this policy create any social issues as well?

  2. katelynsater says:

    I really like the pictures you included! Like Caroline said this is such as interesting time in history due to the connection people make between Russia and alcohol. What policies do you think should have been enacted to create a more successful outcome?

  3. A. Nelson says:

    So many good posts on the anti-alcohol campaign this week! You’ve used some really compelling images here — did you notice that they all seem to suggest that drinking is a man’s issue? Did you find any good articles in the Current Digest about how (un)popular the anti-alcohol campaign was? Check out Anderson’s post that talks about how intertwined the social and economic aspects were: https://ap2cr.wordpress.com/2018/04/29/im-not-drunk-youre-drunk/

  4. Nice post! I really like the images you chose. It is interesting to see how ambitious the anti-alcohol campaign was. It is crazy to think about how much it backfired economically. It is a little sad that all of the improvements in health reversed once the campaign ended.

  5. Grace Callanan says:

    Nick I thought your post was very interesting to read and had a lot of great information in it! I thought your first paragraph was a great introduction setting up how integral alcohol had been in Russian culture, I think this supported by the movie we were watching in class where the elderly ladies were taking shots on Easter. I think your post also depicted the dilemma of the semi-prohibition well, how it held lower negative health side effects form drinking, but greatly damaged the economy. It makes me wonder as a leader how would I handle the situation? Do you suppose that a healthy population is more important and look for other sources of economic development, or figure the economy is more important for stability?

  6. Nick Schuff says:

    Wow, those stats you included on the increase in alcohol consumption between 1955 and 1979 are incredible. I wonder if in your research you read about any theories as to why those numbers increased as much as they did? Nice post!

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