Mikhail Gorbachev Essay Research Paper One of

Mikhail Gorbachev Essay, Research Paper

One of the most dramatic and revolutionary changes in Russian history is the

restriction of the consumption of alcohol. Mikhail Gorbachev instituted his

anti-alcohol campaign on May 16, 1985 in order to decrease alcohol consumption

by Soviet citizens and instead teach them the rewards of moderation. Some such

rewards were a better life at home with their families, more advancement in

their jobs, and better overall health. Although Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol

campaign was effective in generating some positive changes, it eventually

failed, causing resentment toward the leadership, worsening health issues,

creating illegal alcohol production markets, and increasing the budget deficit.

When Gorbachev was fifteen, he went out one day with his father and his

harvesting team. The mechanics decided that it would be funny to play a joke on

the young boy. They gave him a drink of pure alcohol, and told him that it was

vodka. He drank it, and it utterly disgusted him. This was an important lesson

to him. It made him not like alcohol, therefore making him want others to stay

away from it. This could have saved his nation. Gorbachev noted, "After

that experience I have never felt any pleasure in drinking vodka or

spirits" (Gorbachev 37). That is important because if he had liked alcohol,

there most likely never would have been any anti-alcohol campaign.

"Temperance was the rule in the Gorbachev household on holidays, the men

might take one shot glass of vodka or cognac in celebration, no more"

(Smith 38). The Gorbachev family is an example of how alcohol should have been

used in Russia. They drank in moderation, as opposed to others who drank simply

to get drunk and were unable to control themselves while drinking. Gorbachev

wanted others to be able to drink as they did, and he tried to set a good

example in order to get his point across. However, his plans didn’t work out as

he had suspected. "Gorbachev saw alcoholism as an offense to the Soviet

ideal and a symptom of weak personal morals rather than a failing of the Soviet

order" (Galeotti 58). He thought that people should be able to control

themselves while drinking, and if they didn’t it was their own fault. It is not

unusual that he would initiate, as one of his first priorities after taking

power in March 1985, an anti-alcohol campaign. Alcohol had always been a large

part in a Russian’s life. "The Russians have always drunk vodka,"

former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev once said. "They can’t get by without

it" (Sudo 14). Drunkenness had been a plague in Russia since the Middle

Ages; that is no secret. However, for years the communist leadership refused to

acknowledge the fact that alcohol abuse posed any problems. Periodically, in

pre-revolutionary times and even during the first years of Soviet power, the

authorities initiated missions against alcoholism, none of which resulted in

success. By the time Gorbachev got to power, the drinking problem was very much

out of hand in Russia. "Until Gorbachev clamped down on the consumption of

alcohol in June 1985, the Soviets were literally drinking themselves to

death" (Naylor 194). Alcohol was putting a profound strain on society.

Consumption had skyrocketed during the Brezhnev era. This is especially

significant considering it was already considerably high at the beginning of his

era. In 1984, state revenues from the sale of alcoholic beverages reached

fifty-three billion rubles, four times what it had been twenty years before. The

alcohol issue became disastrous. "Nearly one hundred and sixty-three

million out of a population of two hundred and eighty million drink regularly;

as many as twenty million are alcoholics" (Sudo 14). With that many people

in a society having problems with alcohol, obviously something had to be done.

The annual loss to the economy from drunkenness was an estimated eighty to one

hundred billion rubles. Alcoholism was the third most common ailment, after

heart disease and cancer. The life expectancy of men was declining. Infant

mortality rates were rising. Health of present and future generations was being

corrupted. "It was also responsible for most marriage breakups"

(Morris 48). Wives had become desperate trying to save their marriages, with

their husbands practically drinking themselves to death. Crime, corruption, and

cynicism were all increasing. Drunk drivers were responsible for fourteen

thousand traffic deaths per year. "Alcoholism was probably the largest

single cause of a stunning increase in the Soviet Union’s crude death rate"

(Kaiser 101). In 1964, there were about seven deaths per one thousand citizens.

This statistic grew to almost eleven deaths per one thousand citizens in 1985.

There are many causes for this widespread drunkenness. One reason is the poor

living conditions. Another is the hardship of every day Russian life. Economic

conditions were very difficult. A third reason is the cultural backwardness. A

fourth cause is the "oppressive social atmosphere which pushed weak natures

to use alcohol to drown their feelings of inferiority and their fear of harsh

reality" (Gorbachev 220). The people were so vulnerable to alcohol; they

needed it to feel superior and to step away from the truths of life. They looked

for another outlet, alcohol. A last reason is the leaders’ example. It is very

common to find alcohol at their banquets and receptions. In the early 1980s,

there was a strong public pressure on Party and governmental agencies. They were

receiving a flood of letters, mainly from wives and mothers. In these letters,

there were frightening examples of family tragedies, industrial accidents, and

crime due to drunkenness. "It was impossible to read these women’s bitter

outpourings without shuddering. The saying that the wives and children have shed

as many tears as men have drunk vodka is apt indeed" (Ligachev 336). The

women were begging for something to be done about this horrific alcohol problem.

They were becoming desperate to save the lives of those whom they loved. They

now left the problem in the government’s hands. A decision was made to begin a

campaign against the evil alcohol problem. A list of decrees was written and

brought to the Politburo: However, when the draft of the decrees was submitted

to the Politburo for discussion, its members, driven by a noble desire to wipe

out evil without further delay and rendered even more zealous by their own fiery

oratory, decided that the proposed measures were inadequate and that more needed

to be done (Boldin 101). It is a possibility that if the Politburo hadn’t been

so enthusiastic and passionate, they wouldn’t have failed. I think that they

should have started off with small changes. So many drastic reforms in such a

short amount of time frightened the people, and they had nothing other to do

than to turn to the bottle. They needed time to get used to the idea of living

without alcohol, and the government didn’t take this into account. I think that

they were being impractical in these reforms, and they should have taken smaller

steps in order to accomplish their task at hand. Officials of Gosplan, the

Ministry of Trade, the processing industry, and farmers defended the cause of

alcohol as best they could, arguing that the proposed measures would cost the

state budget billions of rubles, ruin the grape growers, and close down much of

the capacity of the wine-making.


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