The Dry Law

In many countries, alcohol is used during celebrations among family, get together with friends, and other hospitality purposes but when used in moderation. Alcohol generated an enormous revenue from indirect taxes for the Soviet Union and in 1979 the state received twenty-five billion rubles in taxes from alcohol beverage. (Anti-Alcohol Campaign) Even though alcohol is legal, when abused, it can be a very dangerous drug. With high amounts of revenue going to the economy, their citizens were struggling. Alcoholism was linked to high rates of child abuse, more reported accidents in the workplace, suicide, divorce, employees not showing up for shifts, and an increase in mortality rates among Soviet men. (Anti-Alcohol Campaign) This raised concern among the Soviet Union Government, and came to the conclusion that alcohol was causing disruption to everyday life to the Soviet citizens.

A 1977 design from “Alcohol: Soviet Anti-Alcohol Posters” reads, “Much evil and wrongdoing to the family.” The text on the bottle says vodka. (I. Fridman / Fuel Publishing)

Thinking of ways to restore the Soviet Union back to its original health and productivity, the Soviet leader of 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev, set in motion a partial ban on alcohol. (Maczewski, 2017) He wanted to control the amount of alcohol being served within the country and its production. During his campaign against alcohol, there were many propaganda posters created to deter alcohol, just like the image above. The artists were tasked to create propaganda to help sober citizens and teach them the dangers of excessive amounts of alcohol. (Bradner, 2017) The images created during this time period did not help end the excessive alcohol consumption but rather ruin the economy and created more mass drinking. To remedy the decline in taxes alcohol brought, the government started printing more money which cause a sore on inflation. (Anti-Alcohol Campaign)

During the campaign, Gorbachev set limits to shops that were permitted to sell alcohol, closing number distillers in the country, destroying vineyards, and banning the sell of alcohol in restaurants before 2 pm. (Anti-Alcohol Campaign) This was the governments attempt to control the production and consumption of alcohol to helps its citizens. The government also banned the making of alcohol that contained over 12% ethyl alcohol, this was a way to prevent people from getting side effects from liquor with higher percentage of alcohol. (Bronza) The campaign against alcohol did not go in favor of leader Gorbachev. After the partial ban, there was an increase of organized crime and high production rates of moonshine. (Anti-Alcohol Campaign) The worst of it all was citizens turned to other dangerous substances to cope with the restrictions on alcohol. Soviet Union Government believed that the campaign against alcohol would be beneficial to the state but it was actually harmful to their people and economy. Which is why they abandoned the campaign after 1987.

Anti-Alcohol Campaign

16 thoughts on “The Dry Law”

  1. Christopher Jones

    I remember watching this video on youtube about how powerful the influence of Vodka had on Russia throughout its history. The person narrating the video was talking about how in Tsarist times, Vodka production was centralized and controlled at the hands of the Tsar, and vodka was made affordable to citizens because the Tsarist regime felt that alcohol abuse can be used as an effective tool of the state in repression, as availibility of alcohol would lead to alcohol abuse would mean the average Russian wouldn’t have the means to take his frustrations out on the state, but rather on himself, the bottle, and his family. After the October Revolution the Bolsheviks introduced prohibition where the sale, manufacture, and consumption of the drink was banned, then Stalin took over and basically did what the Tsars did re. alcohol. I think its amazing how alcohol in Russian society played such a massive role in it.

    1. Hi Christopher, thanks for your comment! I honestly did not know how powerful alcohol consumed the lives of the people in Russia. That is very interesting how the Tsarist used alcohol to keep the people in control and those who abused alcohol would take out their frustration on everything that was not that state.

  2. Nice post Siria! You did a great job of relating the propaganda aspect of this movement to the campaign itself. The image you provided is sobering enough for me to question my weekend habits at school, let alone a father with a family to support! It is sad that this campaign was such a failure considering how dangerous alcoholism is not just in Russia but everywhere.

    1. Hey Rory, thanks for your comment! When I was researching more about alcohol, a lot of articles on propaganda of the anti-alcohol campaign got my attention and many of the images were very convincing to me. Like you said, it is sad that the campaign was a failure but with the campaign led to many more consequences that are far worse than when it was legal. I wonder what the right way to control those who abuse alcohol without disrupting society.

  3. This topic is (justafiably) getting a lot of attention this week! Thanks for the thoughtful discussion, Siria! I was in the Soviet Union for the anti-alcohol campaign, and will always remember the run on sugar (kind of like the current run on TP ;-)), as people started cranking up their home brew distilleries in their bathtubs. It was wild!
    I think you can imagine how unpopular this reform was, even though, as Jake notes in his post, it sought to address a range of social ills along with the economic issues:

    1. Hi Dr. Nelson, thanks for your comment! I think it might because so many of us could relate to the topic since most of us are over 21;) Wow that must have been such a great experience. That is so crazy the length people will go to create alcohol during times that they were illegal. I read Jakes post and thought it was very interesting to read the direction he went with the anti-alcohol campaign.

  4. Hey Siria, your post was very informational and I really liked the photo you used to demonstrate what the Soviet government was thinking. Again, the intention of good was there to help better the community, but of course ended in utter failure causing even more problems. Really good post!

    1. Hi Matt, thanks for your comment! When I was researching more about the anti-campaign many articles about propaganda caught my attention, the creativity the artists have was amazing. You are right, there was good intention by the Soviet government but the failure was far worse than when alcohol was illegal.

  5. Siria, thank you for going in depth on this topic. I found it very interesting, the limitations Gorbachev had put in place and how it ultimately increased the use of alcohol and even led to the use of other substances which is something that I did not know. It was also very interesting and eyeopening to see all the things that were affected/linked to alcoholism and drunkenness.

    1. Hey Joshua, thanks for your comment! I had the exact same reaction as I was reading all the information about influence alcohol had on the people of the Soviet Union and the anti-alcohol campaign.

  6. Hi Siria, I really liked your post and learned a lot from it! I was unaware of how late the ban was started and the vital role alcohol played in tax revenue. Also, the fact that they simply printed more money to try to offset the losses is funny to me. Nice post!

    1. Hi Michael, thanks for your comment! I was also unaware of how late this ban started and I was surprised to learn how it contributed billions of dollars to the economy. Alcohol took such a toll on their economy, the government thought printing more money would be the solution.

  7. I think you do an amazing job displaying propaganda use during this time of Russian prohibition. I have always known about our own countries era of prohibition, but did not know Russia went through something similar. This goes to show how widely unsuccessful prohibition can be in countries, people will always find way to get the things they want. Great read!

    1. Hey Max, thanks for your comment! I also did not know about the prohibition that occurred in Russia. They both had all the same side effects but luckily the U.S did not have to print more money.

  8. This was a great read and I think this is where the stereotype of drunk Russians and vodka come from. It is weird that they tried but failed in controlling it and actually led to more excessive drinking and hurt the economy.

    1. Hi Chase, thanks for your comment! I honestly did not know there was a stereotype about Russians and drinking vodka. The intentions Gorbachev had to restore the Soviet Union were good but sadly the consequences were worse.

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