Sobering Up

Yuri Matrosovich: Museum of Anti-Alcohol Posters. 1996.

Alcohol is the Enemy of Reason (1985)










Much like the morning following a wild night at TOTS, the dawn of an anti-alcohol campaign brought with it the remorseful headaches.  General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev’s plan may have succeeded in lowering the amount of legally produced alcohol in the Soviet Union, however, it inflated more than the economy and underground market.  During the two years of the anti-alcohol campaign (1985-1987), alcohol related crimes spiked to a new level which had its own form of intoxicating effects.  While Gorbachev’s mineral water may have been an acceptable substitute for some, many others resorted to moonshining to get their fix of alcohol.


For some who learned the hard way, alcohol truly is the enemy of reason.  Moonshining is a dangerous business and one that could cost more than a fine or jail time.  In the Soviet Union during the anti-alcohol campaign, multiple homemade breweries accidentally exploded and many more were confiscated by the government.  One source says that during the two year period, “more than 1 million stills have been confiscated, and 4 million liters of home brew has been destroyed”.  To this day, the sale of white-lightening can bring in large amounts of tax free cash flow so it is no surprise that the Soviet economy began to tumble during this campaign.  While the liquor still poured, the state was not collecting any money in relation to the production and sale.  As stated in the Soviet History article, the loss of revenue “created a budgetary imbalance. This was overcome by resort to printing more money, which fueled inflation.”  In one year alone, 100,000 people were convicted of home brewing crimes.

Home brewing was not the only crime to arise during the campaign, unfortunately, “people can frequently reproach even the precinct inspector for sluggishness. He sits things out in his stronghold, buried in papers. And sometimes he even indulges the boozers, shielding home brewers for a bribe.”  The effects were far reaching and while there were some positive results such as the decrease of drunken driving incidents, it was not enough to outweigh the theft and other petty crimes being committed.

Gorbachev witnessed first hand the balloon effect that this ineffective policy had on the economy and the campaign was abolished nearly as quickly as it arose, yet in its wake it left a surge of increased crime and decreased public opinion.  It was, to say the least, a sobering experience for the Soviet Union.




ON THE OFFENSIVE AGAINST ALCOHOL.—The USSR Minister of Internal Affairs Answers Questions From Readers

1985: Anti-Alcohol Campaign



  • Hannah Martin says:

    I’m not sure Gorbachev could have predicted how much could have gone wrong with the Anti-Alcohol Campaign. It seems that his intentions were good, but it seems like things got out of hand pretty quickly. Alcohol was clearly an important factor in the economy of Russia, so significantly hindering the production of it could only yield poor results, as your post shows.

  • carastombock says:

    I like your witty comment at the end; “a sobering experience”. I read another blog post this week about the anti-alcohol campaign and thought it was so interesting how this policy in the Soviet Union parallels with Prohibition in the United States. Crime rates skyrocketed and organized crime developed as well as the increase in home brewing. It’s interesting to compare the two and see how each policy had very similar effects in two very different places 50 years apart.

  • jessrs217 says:

    I feel like Gorbachev should have known what would happen with this kind of campaign, after seeing what happened in the United States with the Prohibition era, because the effects were basically the same. Both the anti-alcohol campaign and prohibition caused an increase in the creation of moonshine, an increase in organized crime and arrests, and a loss for the economy, among other things. I like how you called it a sobering experience for the Soviet Union, because in reality that’s exactly what it ended up being both for them and for the United States years earlier.

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