How Vodka ruined Russia

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Tagore2
How Vodka ruined Russia
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How Vodka ruined Russia

What do you think about this? What should the Communists' policy be on this? Drug addiction organized by the state...

Tagore2
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Everyone knows how the Revolution smashed the wine cellars of the czar, and poured the wine into the gutters. It is not so well known, perhaps, that this act was not a mere protest against wine, but an act of desperate self-defence, in order to preserve discipline in Petrograd.

"We should have preferred to save the wine and sell it abroad," said Trotsky to me, "for it was valuable stuff. But it was a definite policy of the counter-revolution to try to create disorder and anarchy and wreck the discipline which seeking to establish. That kind of thing is dangerous in a revolution. It starts with the dregs of the population, but it draws in next the less stable of the workers, until a whole population is corrupted.

"The men who wanted that wine were so mad for it that even machine guns would not keep them back. So the comrade in charge turned the machine guns on the bottles and destroyed them. The wine rose to the tops of his hip-boots so that he was wading in it. He used to be a drinker himself before he became a Communist, and it hurt him to see that good wine destroyed. But it was necessary to preserve order in Petrograd."

[...]

But the bootlegging wave this past winter made evident the need for more organised action. This is taking place now in a temporary way in the special raids by the police. One-fourth of all court cases in Moscow are bootlegging cases. More correlated action may be expected as general organisation improves in Russia.

"The enforcement of this question is too scattered," said Trotsky to me in a conversation late in December. "It is no longer sufficient merely to prohibit; we must organise both repressive and educational measures. We must get together the representatives of health and police and army, who are handling the question now, and form a joint programme." I learned later through other sources that he had called such a committee together.

"We must consider what we are able to enforce at present with our present means. In the scattered villages, where the peasants are making it at home, it is impossible to use repressive measures on every house. But this industry develops like other industries. Very soon some man, richer and shrewder than the others, begins to make it for sale. He becomes a petty exploiter of vice, a corrupter of his village. The children and the women hate him for taking their food by debauching their men folk.

"Men like this we can arrest and punish. They are more dangerous than ordinary home-brewing peasants and fewer in number, with public sentiment already somewhat against them. They are the weakest spot in the enemy's ranks and can be attacked with our present resources. As our strength in organisation grows, we can carry our repressions farther.

"But no repressions will solve the problem at the root. The basic cause is the emptiness of the peasant's life and this must be Filed by higher standards of culture, by education and recreation and wholesome social life."

[...]

As for state manufacture of vodka, about which rumours from time to time arise, the words of Lenin himself laid down the government's attitude. When the new economic policy was under discussion and the question was raised in the conference of the Communist party how far they were prepared to go in making concessions to the peasants, Lenin outlined the policy as follows:

"Whatever the peasant wants in the way of material things we will give him, as long as they do not imperil the health or morals of the nation. If he asks for paint and powder and patent leather shoes, our state industries will labour to produce these things to satisfy his demand, because this is an advance in his standard of living and 'civilisation,' though falsely conceived by him.

But if he asks for ikons or booze--these things we will not make for him. For that is definitely retreat; that is definitely degeneration that leads him backward. Concessions of this sort we will not make; we shall rather sacrifice any temporary advantage that might be gained from such concessions."

Anna Louise in The First Time in History (1925)ch. VIII. The War with Alcohol

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There are two big facts which have set a new stamp on working class life. The one is the advent of the eight-hour working day; the other, the prohibition of the sale of vodka. The liquidation of the vodka monopoly, for which the war was responsible, preceded the revolution. The war demanded such enormous means that czarism was able to renounce the drink revenue as a negligible quantity, a billion rubles more or less making no very great difference. The revolution inherited the liquidation of the vodka monopoly as a fact; it adopted the fact, but was actuated by considerations of principle. It was only with the conquest of power by the working class, which became the conscious creator of the new economic order, that the combating of alcoholism by the country, by education and prohibition, was able to receive its due historic significance. The circumstance that the “drunkards’” budget was abandoned during the imperialist war does not alter the fundamental fact that the abolition of the system by which the country encouraged people to drink is one of the iron assets of the revolution.

Vodka, the Church, and the Cinema, Trotsky, 1923.

The new vodka of capitalism is now psychiatric drugs, psychotropics and other opioids.

d-man
It's not exactly news that

It's not exactly news that alcoholism is a problem, especially in slavic countries, and traditionally socialists have seen it as such (eg it was an agenda-item for the planned 1914 Vienna congress of the Socialist International, for which its chairman Emile Vandervelde prepared a document).

I'm not aware of any specific communist, or just scientific-rational, objections against a general policy of discouragement, up to banning of alcohol and other drugs. If we plan and organise production of foods, then we'll make choices too, eg whether the mass production of refined sugars is justifiable. Assuming we all agree on this, then perhaps your question is about the most effective policies to tackle alcoholism? "Abolishing" the brewery industry would require to train its employees into something else. Perhaps they can bottle some more healthy drinks instead.