The Soviet state on the one hand supported this as an instrument for draining off social tensions: Stalin in 1930, at the beginning of monumental industrialization, wrote to President of the Council of People’s Commissars Molotov demanding “the greatest expansion of vodka production possible for the sake of a real and serious defense of our country.” On the other hand, the state clearly saw that this level of alcohol consumption would lead to a drastic reduction in lifetime (male life expectancy had fallen to 47 by the 1990s) and that, due to the early decomposition of families it would significantly stunt Russia’s birthrate. Since both of these would reduce the Soviet Union’s competitiveness in the race between the two world systems, from time to time the government tried to roll consumption back with anti-alcohol campaigns. At the same time the government was all too aware that it could not renounce the revenues from the alcohol monopoly: at the beginning of Communism alcohol taxes meant a whole quarter of the state budget; their falling during Gorbachev’s 1985 anti-alcohol campaign contributed significantly to the decline of Soviet economy.
In the coming weeks I will outline some important stages of this story on the basis of Russian and American literature in the series prepared for the American “Points: The Blog of the Alcohol and Drugs History Society” (an affiliate organization of the American Historical Association)” on the request of the editor in chief, Trysh Travish, who discovered Poemas del Río Wang on the trace of our posts written on the early 20th-century Hungarian and Gorbachev-period Soviet temperance campaigns. From the temperance unions of Tsarist Russia to the alcohol ban of early Communism, through the campaign of 1929-30 and its periodical renewals after Stalin’s death in 1953 to Gorbachev’s “dry law”, we will examine each time a group of publications to see how they tried to curb the “green snake” of alcoholism. We will also post the articles here at Río Wang where, not pressed by Points’ space limitations, will illustrate them with further sources and pictures.
The most spectacular visual manifestation of the anti-alcohol campaigns were undoubtedly the posters, of which about a hundred have survived from the period between 1920 and 1990. Most of them became iconic, and continue to affect if not the alcohol consumption, at least the visual culture of contemporary Russians. We have illustrated the first, introductory post on Points with the twelve temperance posters, mainly from the 1950s, which we have already published on Río Wang, as they were the models of the anti-Coca Cola calendar of the NiKola kvass in 2009, whose pages were analyzed in detail at the time of their publication. We do not quote them here again, but instead we begin to compile from the images over the web a virtual museum of Soviet temperance posters: although we will refer to a number of them later, let them stay together here. A part of these images are well known and quoted by a number of Western sites, while another part can be found only on some hidden Russian blogs. The worst thing is that the year of publication is indicated only with a few of them, so you can only guess on the basis of their style to which large campaign – 1920-25, 1929-30, 1954-58, 1971-72, 1985-87 – they belonged. I try to constantly expand both the number of the pictures and their data, and I am grateful for any help of this kind. And once we can expect such an abundant harvest of posts, we have also opened a new chapter among those on various 20th-century wars in the “Brave old world” collecting post, with the title “War against alcohol”.
Shame! – He got drunk, swore, smashed a tree – he is ashamed to look people in the face (1958, N. Velezheva, N. Kuzovkin)
How we eradicate drunkenness – Through school, club and village cultural houses to the victory above drunkenness. – Pioneers! Teach your parents not to drink! Teachers! Explain the damages of alcohol to children! Youth! Do sport, and you will not want to drink! Women! Stand up against drunkenness and drunkards! Visit cinema and theater – this is a reasonable pastime. Pass your free time in the club and village cultural house. Play chess – it’s a useful pastime.