The Sobering Truth

(1) Anti – Alcohol Campaign

The truth is, Russians can’t live without there alcohol. They like to drink….a lot. Every celebratory occasion in Russia calls for a drink but many would not even need a reason to drink besides that they enjoy it. Up until the start of the 1980s there were some anti-alcohol campaigns but never a real strong mission to stop binge-drinking and alcohol abuse. “In a speech in 1984, Chernenko finally focused national attention on the problems of alcohol abuse, encouraging more rigorous enforcement of existing legislation” (2). This speech was the first sign of a significant change in alcoholic policies throughout Russia. Let’s not forget that a large part of the Soviets revenue. In fact, “the state derived some 25.4 billion rubles in indirect taxes from the sale of alcoholic beverages which was more than were paid in income tax” (3).  There were studies done that alcohol abuse was linked to acts such as child abuse, suicide, divorce, and a rise in mortality rates. The image above, while it is very subtle, is powerful in conveying the message of the Anti – Alcohol campaign. I think many people could look at the poster and see themselves. It displays a common man who it probably working an average job that just got back home from work for dinner which i think many can relate to.

In 1985, Gorbachev succeeded Chernenko as General Secretary of the Communist Party. Immediately following this change Gorbachev initiated the Anti – Alcohol Campaign of 1985. Gorbachev wanted everyone to know that this was a very serious deal and he wouldn’t spare anyone. “One of the most visible manifestations of this, to foreigners, was that alcohol was banned at official functions, but also party officials and managers who drank heavily were to be dismissed, outlets were to be reduced radically, and many other actions were to be taken by, for example, trade unions and the media” (2). This reminds me of the current laws in place in the United States in regards to showing alcohol consumption in commercials which isn’t allowed. Another component to this anti-alcohol campaign was a 25% increase in the price of alcohol to drive down sales. There were also many cuts in production. Other smaller components included “banning drinking of alcohol at all workplaces, including formerly legal bars, such as those in higher education establishments; banning sales before 2 p.m.; restricting alcohol sales to off-licences; and banning sales on trains (including dining-cars) and similar establishments” (2).

The effort and execution of Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign was definitely there. In fact, it was doing so good that it was its ultimate demise. “Several surveys indicated that about 10% of people had given up drinking and about a third were drinking less” (2). There was also a decrease in alcohol related accidents and production. In Gorbachev and the Soviet’s eyes this was fantastic and did everything it was intended too. Unfortunately, they didn’t account for how the negatives may outweigh the positives. “The figures published at that time for spending on alcohol from official outlets fell in 1985 by 5 billion roubles from that in 1984, but by 1986 it had fallen further, by 15.8 billion roubles and by 1987 by a further 16.3 billion” (2). The government could not continue this pattern of losing money. They needed people to drink to continue to fund the Soviet Union. There was also a rise in “in the production of moonshine (samogon) and, like Prohibition in the United States, an increase in organized crime” (3). Moonshiners were taking money that the government would normally be receiving. Just like with the United States that doesn’t sit right with government officials. It was hard to stop these moonshiners though. Between the moonshiners and the loss of revenue generated from alcohol related purchases the Soviet Union had to disband the campaign in 1988. The outlook of the campaign sought doom for the Soviets and they had to resort back to just letting people drink.





5 thoughts on “The Sobering Truth”

  1. This is a great post! I have never even thought about the fact that the government gets so much money off of the consumption of alcohol. It’s crazy to me to think about how the government had to intervene in alcohol consumption in the Soviet Union but I guess it is somewhat similar to the United States’ War on Drugs, however alcohol consumption (not in the context of abuse) seems a lot less serious.

  2. Awesome post! It’s crazy to think that billions of dollars come from the sale of alcohol. It’s even more interesting to see the anti-alcohol campaign worked so well, as it did in this instance. Although there were moonshiners, as you said, it seems as though the overall plan to decrease alcohol consumption worked.

    1. I think it sort-of worked. But it also prompted a huge uptick in bathtub breweries/ distilleries. One reason sugar was rationed in these late 80s was because so much of it was diverted toward moonshine production!

  3. Phil also wrote about the anti-alcohol campaign. I thought this topic was neat because it is so unique! It seemed like it was a balancing act trying to manage people from becoming alcoholics but also have enough people want alcohol to sell. Did they lift the anti-alcohol campaign and everything was fine? Or did it take time to get things to normal alcohol consumption levels?

  4. The Soviets anti-alcohol campaign reminded me of the U.S. own prohibition era. When the sell of alcohol was illegal in the U.S., it didn’t work here, and it didn’t work in Russia. Ultimately like in the U.S. it led to an increase in organized crime, as well as the birth of the Russian mafia. Because people were willing to illegally pay to purchase alcohol from moonshiners.

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