Say No to Alcohol


Alcohol has been a huge influence on Russia’s culture, whether it be a good or bad one. In 1979, the state derived approximately 25.4 billion rubles in indirect taxes from the sale of alcoholic beverage which was more than what was paid in income tax. However, alcoholism was on the rise in the Soviet Union and it lead to an increase in suicides, divorces, child-abuse, absenteeism, and accidents on the job.

After two months of being General Secretary of the Communist Party, Mikhail Gorbachev led an anti-alcohol campaign in May of 1985. The first laws restricting access to alcohol came into effect on 1 June 1985. These laws would prohibit alcohol at all workplaces, prohibit the sale of alcohol at bars, banned sales before 2 p.m., restricting alcohol sales to off-licenses, banning sales on trains, and similar establishments. Gorbachev would also close vodka distilleries and destroyed vineyards in Moldavia, Armenia, and Georgia in order o cease the production of wine. In August 1985 prices of alcohol increased by 25%, and would increase again in August 1986.

The anti-alcohol campaign did achieve its goal of reducing alcohol consumption in the Soviet Union, but it also created organized crime. During an interview the Minister of Internal Affairs admitted that drinking related crimes, home brewing, and alcohol theft were on the rise. In two years, more than 1 million stills have been confiscated, and more than 4 million liters of home brew were destroyed. There was huge surge in the theft of alcohol in 1987 with there being over 7,000 crimes.

Gorbachev’s campaign would fail rather rapidly. Not only did organize crime become an issue in the Soviet society, his government had declining revenue due to the sharp contraction in excise taxes because of the campaign (Freeze, 255). In 1987, Gorbachev had to abandon his campaign and deal with its consequences for the remainder of time he was in office.


Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: a History. Oxford University Press, 2009.

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  1. Phil, great work! There’s been a lot of great posts about the anti-alcohol campaign this week, and I like how you mentioned that it was the combination of social and economic factors that eventually led to the downfall of the policies. Additionally, I like how you talked about the rise of illicit activities with the introduction of these policies– why do you think that is? And have you seen similar trends in other aspects of Soviet society?


    1. I believe criminal activity started to occur because of how important alcohol was in Russian society. If the campaign took a slower pace instead of trying to eradicate alcohol, than maybe people would not have been so inclined to make their own or steal it.


  2. I love the picture you included in the post. Its intended to be serious but I have to admit I laughed a bit at it. What do you think would have been a better approach to the alcoholism crisis?


    1. I believe if Gorbachev led a less intense campaign it would have been more successful. Trying to eradicate the production and sale of all alcohol caused a backlash from a lot of people, which led to them making alcohol illegally. Instead, Gorbachev should have moved at a slower pace starting by getting rid of alcohol in the work place and slowly increase the tax on alcohol.


  3. I also did my post on the Anti – Alcohol campaign! Its certainly a very interesting topic due to the fact the campaign did so well that it ended up hurting the Soviet Union even more. I bet after the campaign ended they wished they had never bothered to mess with it in the first place!


  4. You’ve found some good resources in the Current Digest for this post. And I like the way you discuss how interconnected the economic and social aspects of limiting the alcohol supply were.


  5. Great post! It is interesting to see how much the anti-alcohol campaign backfired socially and economically. It really show how some problems, like alcoholism, are far too complex to solve on a mass level.


  6. Maybe we should put you on the anti-alcohol campaign! “In 1979, the state derived approximately 25.4 billion rubles in indirect taxes from the sale of alcoholic beverage which was more than what was paid in income tax,” was the most surprising fact to me. This is wild. Any thoughts on levels of alcohol consumption in Russia today?


  7. Phil, this was a great post. It is definitely interesting to see how much of a backlash this anti-alcohol campaign had on various socio-economic and political aspects of the Soviet Union. Do you think that any of the unintended effects seen in the immediate aftermath still linger in Russia today?


  8. The events of human history have shown that evidently, it is impossible to successfully ban alcohol. It didn’t work in America in the 20’s and it didn’t work in Russia in the 80’s.


  9. What kind of organized crime came into play because of the prohibition policies? Was it all alcohol related crime or was it violent riots type of crime? I also wrote about the anti-alcohol campaign and couldn’t find the answers to these questions.


  10. According to one of my sources, the majority of the crimes was that people were illegally producing alcohol in their basements; the main one being moonshine. Theft was also on the rise because people were stealing alcohol and sugar. Sugar was stolen because many people used it when producing moonshine.


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