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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German Siege on Leningrad: Dark Times for all Comrades

The Siege of Leningrad was one of the longest of the Second World War. In September 1941, around 400,000 civilians were evacuated from the city most of which being children. The civilians were assured that this siege would not be long as the enemies “were incurring heavy losses.” However, this was not the case, every able-bodied civilian was called to fight or dig trenches to fortify the city. The above photo depicts the soldiers using an Anti-Aircraft gun to defend against German Bomber planes.

Times were tough for the citizens of Leningrad as food and other resources like electricity became scarce. The Germans made sure to destroy all the railroads to cut off resources to the city. Rations became extremely rare and citizens were forced to eat anything including rats, birds, bark, and in some instances human flesh. At the end of the siege around 800,000 died of starvation and another 200,000 were killed in bombing or combat.

This seems extremely dark however in order to keep morale up the state turned to a unique style of propaganda. They would organize games and athletic events with extra rations as a prize. They also would film fit men and women competing and broadcast it to show the citizens that they remained strong. Another form of moral was poetry. Concerts and poetry sessions were broadcasted to keep people interested and busy. While some people remained positive there was also more grim forms of poems depicting the gruesome events occurring. In order to keep public morale high, the state was sure to shut down those who opposed the movement.

This was a dark time for the Comrades however, throughout the city there remains a plethora of stone monuments containing the words and poems of those who chose to write during this time.




Anti-religious Propaganda: Taking Control of the Soviet State

Throughout history, religion has been a fundamental ideology that is seen is almost every culture around the globe. This is no different for the Soviet Union however it comes with some unique challenges.

The decree of January 20, 1918 caused the dissolve of the Orthodox Church and the Bolsheviks also made sure that the clergy resigned their positions and were then set to be second class citizens [1]. During this time of dissolve there was a lot of conflict. The introduction of the communist state required the abolition of major religious sects as it blocked the ability of people to realize “class consciousness”. In order to maintain control of the people and create the ideal communist society, religion must be set to a minimum and the state must remain a priority. The Bolsheviks realized this and set out on a campaign to degrade religious sects.

The propaganda photo above has the caption, “Religion is the Opiate of the People” [2]. This was one style of propaganda that was designed to show people the level of control that religion has on an individual and how the good feeling obtained from faith is a mask. While it does make you think, it is quite hypocritical when considering the alternative the Bolsheviks were promoting. As said before there were significant conflicts in different religious communities. Both the Jewish and Catholic communities did not the propaganda very effective as both regimes (Communist/Tsarist) were very hostile to them during times of power. Same goes for the Islamic communities through Central Asia [1].

These communities sparked conflict as resistance was faced during times of Atheist propaganda. The campaign pursued however with more programs becoming available. At this time in 1924, the Anti-religious Commission had been established and created a newspaper by the name of Bezbozhnik [1]. They would constantly post articles and journals that pushed this narrative.

This propaganda push was crucial in securing the state for the Communist narrative. To create a state where the government was first was unconditional as religion put a higher priority on God than matters on earth. By controlling the conscious decisions of the people the Bolsheviks would create a more sustainable communism in Russia. By essentially demonizing major religious sects they would have greater control of the Soviet State. This like other factors would become crucial farther down the line in Russia’s modern history.

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Prokudin-Gorskii photograph collection: Steam Engine “Kompaund”

This train symbolizes a unique time in Russian history and more importantly focuses on greatly needed infrastructure initiative. Around when this photo was taken, this train was one of the fastest trains produced by Russia. It’s maximum output allowed a top speed of 115 kilometers per hour [1]. This particular train car was produced at the Briansk locomotive factory in 1909 as the number “Ab 132” indicates. This specific type of locomotive, “Ab”, indicates that it comes equipped with a Schmidt super heater [1]. This was at the time an extremely powerful steam engine that provided maximum output for transportation and carriage needs. I believe this photo captures a crucial turning point in Russia’s shift to developing a sustainable domestic infrastructure system. This photo also highlights the strong efforts of Sergei Witte. Witte was the Minister of Finance from 1892-1903 and established his infrastructure initiative from Fredrich List, a German economist who claimed state support is required for creating stronger domestic markets [2]. Witte’s system put railroads as the top priority claiming that these systems were inevitably the “Flywheel of the Economy”. These railroads are crucial to connecting such a large country like Russia. By making it easier and faster to transport goods and connect people across the country, Russia could start creating a stronger domestic market.

Prokudin-Gorskii took this photo in 1910 as part of a large photography initiative to capture the empire in color. This initiative was a large push by Tsar Nicholas II and the Ministry of Transportation to capture all the corners of the empire using the newer forms of transportation. While the precise location is unknown, the style of tracks indicate that it is on the Ural Railway line. Other intriguing parts of this photo are captured in the background. The yellow train car in the back was most likely Prokudin-Gorskii’s “mobile darkroom” which was used to process the color photos. Also, it is hard to notice but part of the train conductors head and body is seen sticking out of the cabin. This photo is a cool reminder of how transportation and photos were captured at this time.

Expansion on domestic infrastructure was key at the time to expand the financial reach of the Russian Empire. While the political reforms were not expanding as fast as the financial reforms, these were crucial steps that required enormous social change from all classes of people. This photo helps to capture this unique shift in such a monumental time in Russian History



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