A new anti-alcohol campaign has been launched in the USSR on two fronts—one of administrative imposition of measures, sometimes very severe, and one of ideological justification for those measures. This twofold approach is fully understandable because the Soviet system is based on ideological dogmaticism, and any political or social campaign, as well as any important event, must be explained in the terms of Marxism-Leninism and fixed within its framework. A Yugoslav journalist has already compared the administrative, legal side of the anti-alcohol battle with the methods of Ivan the Terrible. However, the ideological side of the campaign has encountered great difficulties (some of them even comical) in providing a Marxist ideological foundation for the fight against the drinking habit.

Hundreds of anti-alcohol articles have been published in the Soviet press since June 1985, when the government passed a Resolution outlining measures for overcoming drink and alcoholism. In the 12th issue of the Party’s theoretical magazine Communist, there appeared a special unsigned article which may be considered as the definitive ideological foundation for the campaign. This article was re printed in many Soviet newspapers with a foreword recommending it for lecturers, Party propagandists, and the like. The article ran under the heading “Superimportant matter,” the same term used by Lenin when he wanted to underline the importance of some issue.

According to the Communist article, alcohol in the “social conditions of the capitalistic world is an instrument for the exploitation of the proletariat and a means of his moral enslavement.” Alcohol “at the beginning of our century became a part of the arsenal of imperialistic policy.” Every protest against this abuse failed be cause of “the main capitalist argument—the profit from the produce and sale of liquors.” Predictably, the Party magazine managed to forget the years of American Prohibition. 

But Communist found no place for alcohol in the workers’ paradise: “Sobriety is an inevitable standard of the Socialist’s way of life. . . . Opposite to the situation in capitalist society, drink and alcoholism are alien to Social ism, as well to the class nature of the proletariat . . . the Party considers overcoming drink and alcoholism a social goal of great political importance. . . . Alcoholism causes a break in our progress . . . it contra dicts the Program of our Party. A drunk communist is a case of social pathology. . . . Sobriety is the most important quality of the socialist’s personality. . . . ” Etc., etc. The obligatory quote from Lenin was not  missing: “The proletariat is the rising class. It docs not deserve intoxication . . . either of sexual promiscuity, or of alcohol.” What was missing from the article was any reference to the enormously popular verse of the poet Mayakovskii, praised by Stalin as “the best, most talented poet of our socialist epoch.” In “On the death of Esenin,” Mayakovskii wrote frankly of the proletariat’s love for vodka. These verses are in the Soviet high school curriculum, as is a discussion of American Prohibition, and everybody knows about both.

Consistent with a Communist effort—to encourage Russian nationalism and to equate “Russians” with “Soviets,” the Party magazine repudiated the common belief that the drinking habit forms part of an old Russian tradition: “This thesis has been repeated by bourgeois theoreticians for centuries.” The proper reader must conclude that sober Russian proletarians have “for centuries” been victims of a bourgeois slandering campaign. Indicted along with the bourgeois slanderers were the members of the pre-Revolutionary Russian ruling classes, who used alcohol as an instrument of enslavement. Communist claimed that when Russian peasants refused to drink vodka in 1858-59, their “Movement for Sobriety” was repressed by the Tsarist Army. In fact, the peasants’ riots were provoked by a rise in the tax on vodka, and the Army became involved after the peasants demolished liquor stores in many villages.

In the Communist rewrite of history, the fight against the Bolshevik coup d’etat of 1917 was led by foes of sobriety: “Russian Counterrevolution equipped itself with alcohol as a weapon against revolution. . . . Bolsheviks resisted vodka with guns and rifles.” The article also informs us that in the infant years of the Soviet state, the virtuous young women of the Comsomol refused to so much as kiss any young men who drank.

Hundreds of articles and radio broadcasts echoed the article in the Communist. In a broadcast on Radio Moscow, Soviet writer Stanislav Gagarin declared that “our predecessors drank nonalcoholic drinks made from honey.” In fact, the drinks that ancient Germans and Slavs made from honey were highly alcoholic. The magazine Novoye Vremya informed the readers that the evils of beer, wine, and vodka were brought to Russia from the West in the 14th and 15th centuries and that at first only Tsarist noblemen and administrators used them. But if we accept the Communist theory of alcohol, that would mean that the Tsarist ruling class first used liquor to enslave itself.

With one voice, the organs of Soviet mass media proclaimed the Party’s message that drinking and alcoholism are very dangerous ideological and political enemies which prevent Soviet society from marching faster toward progress and a splendid future. Logically, the question must be asked: Why has alcoholism become such a broad and dangerous problem in the Soviet Union, requiring all government and Party forces to enlist in the fight against it? If drinking habits are really linked with exploitation, hopelessness, and loss of individual and social perspective, then why are so many Soviet citizens drinkers and alcoholics?

In answer to these questions, Soviet ideologists have turned to Marxist scholasticism, with its theories of human “needs” to be satisfied in Socialist or Communist societies. “From each person according to his abilities and to each person according to his needs,” ran a Marxist slogan that has been used in explanations for the strange prevalence of alcoholism in a society which by nature should always be sober. The unsigned article in the Communist develops the idea of an “irrational need” and explains the use of alcohol as the result of an elevated standard of living without carefully developed and created “needs.” Of course, this explanation immediately provokes another question: What type of “needs” should be developed in Socialism and Communism? Is it even possible to plan needs?

In the pages of a Soviet newspaper, the discussion of”irrational needs” led to the conclusion that there “does not exist a real biological need for alcohol.” The roots for “irrational needs” that cause alcohol use can be divided into three groups: First-general reasons, including industrialization and urbanization, the growing intensity of labor, stress, etc. Second—in capitalistic society, irrational needs are created by exploitation. Third “according to Soviet scientists” irrational needs are rooted in a “prerevolutionary past” which is in contradiction with the socialist social order. Also mentioned in this con text were temporary contradictions found in “the first phase of Communist society.”

Communist has even developed a theory about the existence of “the law of developing of needs.” Stanislav Gagarin discusses “preprogrammed evolution” in the spirit of Marxist determinism and asks, “Are alcohol, nikotin, drugs part of preprogrammed evolution? Of course not . . . It is impossible that evolution really pro grams such perversion. This would be in contradiction with elementary logic.” The use of these substances represents an “unexpected” breakdown “that should be repaired. How? By developing the intellect of the individual to the point that he can realize this situation.” Gagarin insists that alcoholism “is not an ideological but a social problem,” and he hails the anti alcoholism campaign as the “moral revolution” which will liquidate “dangerous social evil.”

As part of the anti-alcohol crusade, Radio Moscow also broadcast an inter view with the Secretary of Health for the Russian Federation:

Question: A peculiar new problem: Listeners from Murmansk, Kaluga, and Kursk anxiously inform us about their relatives who cannot leave the bottle and are now drinking technical alcohol and Eau de Colognes.


Answer: Really such alarming messages arc coming. The road to sobriety will be complicated and difficult. Because of this, in many areas there are people poisoned by surrogates of alcohol, precisely in the same way as comrades who are writing to you.

In general, the ideological foundation for the anti-alcohol campaign has opened some really new and interest ing philosophic questions about the nature of “needs.” Yet official answers to these questions offered by Soviet authors remind one of a well-known Soviet joke: In the future Communist society, the butcher shop will replace the usual “No meat today” sign with one reading “There is no need for meat today.” The scholastic Soviet discussions about the problem of alcoholism could arise only in a closed society in which it is impossible to raise serious questions or to request logical consistency. This is probably one reason why the “irrational need” to drink persists in the Soviet Union.