1985 was a tumultuous time for Soviet Russia. Gorbachev took over as the Secretary General and saw that it was part of his mandate to see an end to a rampant problem in the Soviet states. Alcohol had long been a cultural and traditional part of Russian society, usually accompanying celebration. Alcohol itself held a prominent place, and does so currently, in Russian society. However, statistics of the day showed that alcoholism was greatly tied to a large amount of social problems that plagued society and made the dream of a pure communist ideal harder to achieve through problems of absenteeism from the work place, domestic abuse, suicide, divorce, and work place accidents as workers were found to be drunk or drinking on the job.
Gorbachev’s first two years saw the beginning of a crackdown on alcohol production, and sales, but ironically not consumption. The vast majority of the populace turned to methods of home brewing various types of alcohol in order to subsidize their own consumption in light of the government crackdown. This is reminiscent of the effects of prohibition in the United States. Although the Soviet crackdown was not a complete outlaw of alcohol, it was certainly close to it when it came to prosecuting these home brewers. Organized crime spiked as a result of the downsizing of the substance’s availability for public purchase. The crime involved bootlegging and the sale of liquor, beer, and wine in a fashion that promoted a black market for alcohol in Soviet Russia, as well as producing an increase in the production of moonshine, or samogon.
The state controlled media sources jumped on the bandwagon in order to produce anti-alcohol propaganda and write compelling news articles against the consumption of alcohol while condemning alcoholics to the level of being worthless to society.
“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 mines and the logging camps, be held to a strict regime, and fed a semi starvation 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…protect society from drunkards!” – Newspaper article link.
The campaign, although produced with good intention, was not an effect way to counter the issue of alcoholism. The government went to the extremes of limiting the kinds of shops that could sell alcohol, similar to ABC stores in Virginia, the shutting down of many vodka distilleries, as well as the destruction of vineyards in the regions that had climates acceptable for wine production such as Moldavia, Armenia, and Georgia. Perhaps the greatest hit to the Soviet government, aside from the rise of organized crime and home distilleries, was the loss in revenue that was felt sharply in the budget from the decrease of sales tax derived from alcohol purchasing. In 1979 alone the state was able to gain 25.4 billion rubles from the sales of alcohol, this alone actually eclipsed the revenue from income tax to put it into perspective.
Needless to say the campaign was eventually abandoned in the latter part of 1987. The resulting loss of revenue and apparent failure to actually curb any sort of consumption led to the state returning to normal and allowing the party to continue. Still, the government had great intentions to help save the society from the ravishing effects of what was surely a problem, and continues to be a problem. A quick Google search will produce results that show Russia, along with many other former Soviet republics, as being in the top 5 contenders for the most alcohol consumption globally per capita. The top five per liter of consumption countries in 2010, in order of succession, were Belarus, Moldova, Russia, Romania, and the Ukraine. Coincidence? I think HET.