Summer Party planned? Russian Anti-Alcohol Campaign will make you think twice

It should not come as a surprise that alcohol is intrinsically connected to Russia culture. From the perspective of the government, alcohol is providing a hefty financial benefit. In 1979, Russia pulled in over 25.4 billion rubles for taxes related to alcohol purchases which totaled up more than income tax revenue from the entire population. However, as stated before, with such a culture invested in alcohol consumption there is a large probability for unintended consequences. In Russia, they experienced higher rates of child-abuse, suicide, divorce, and rising mortality rates in the younger populations. Newly elected Mikhail Gorbachev decided to launch a campaign to combat alcohol use. While there was a propaganda side to the campaign like the photo seen above, there were more violent measures taken.

During this time, over 227 sales outlets lost their trading licenses accord to the Current Digest of the Soviet Press. Also at this time, they shut down vodka distilleries, even destroyed vineyards and producers in Moldavia, Armenia, and Georgia. Other lighter measures included banning restaurants from serving alcohol before 2 pm and public officials and their events had to become “alcohol free” to remain a good public example.

While all these events created a decline in alcohol sales/consumption there was a lot of unintended consequences. Just like the United States, there was an increase in illegal production of alcohol, more specifically moonshine. With this production taking the forefront of illegal consumption, organized crime spiked in 1986. Organized crime also created a market for illegal narcotics which spiked during this time as well. If all these consequences didn’t make the government reconsider then the massive loss in tax revenue defiantly did. Because legal sales decreased there was a massive imbalance in the national budget. And what does Russia do to combat this? Print more money. Which lead to high levels of inflation. None of this was sustainable so the campaign tanked and eventually subsided in 1987.

After all of the work, the government realized it needed the tax revenue to stay afloat despite some of the adverse health effects that alcohol had on the public. Towards the end of the Soviet Union, society was changing and the government was struggling to keep up both socially and financially. Despite extensive efforts to keep society afloat, the Soviet Union would collapse. While political, military, social factors all played a role in its inevitable demise, financial/economic failures during the Cold War officially sealed the state’s fate.

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5 replies on “Summer Party planned? Russian Anti-Alcohol Campaign will make you think twice”

Thanks for writing about the anti-alcohol campaign! It really was one of the least successful of Gorbachev’s reforms, and I well remember the run on sugar that developed when people started using it to make their own “home brew.” Still I am sympathetic to the idea that providing fewer opportunities to drink, especially during the work day / week, could and should have a positive impact on labor productivity, which was one of the key motivators of the reform. Also, did you catch the bit about how the Imperial government tried such a move during WWI, and had to abandon it when it was 1) super unpopular and 2) expensive because of the loss of state revenue?


Reducing the legal ability to purchase alcohol defiantly made it more difficult to obtain it and lowered rates of consumption. I did not catch that bit about the Imperial government but it is interesting to see.


Hey Paul, great post! I really liked how you brought up organized crime. That was a really interesting part of the campaign and having to beef up law-enforcement was a big financial burden.


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