Soviet anti-alcohol posters

“Little by little, and you end up with a hooligan. Tolerance of drinking is dangerous. There is but a step from drinking to crime.” 1986.

In May 1985, as one of the first measures under the new general secretary of the Communist party, Michael Gorbachev, the last big Soviet-style campaign was set in motion, a campaign to curb alcohol consumption. It was a forceful and ruthless campaign, which included a variety of measures from the promotion of fruit juice drinking to price rises on vodka, the closing of vodka distilleries and the up-rooting of century-old vines in Georgia, amounting in fact to semi prohibition.

Soviet communist officials firmly believed that heavy drinking and alcohol abuse were historical products of bourgeois-capitalist institutions and as such should ultimately disappear in a ”classless” and “conflict-free” socialist society. However, the alcohol issue was never very high on the government agenda.

What alcohol abuse remained in the new Soviet society was viewed as stemming from character flaws of the individual, absence of personal willpower, peer pressures, alien (foreign) influences, and the like, but was not believed to be related to systemic features of the society. Contrary to all evidence (and disregarding cause-and-effect considerations), it was also assumed that alcohol abuse and heavy drinking were associated with low educational, “cultural”, and income levels.

Gorbachev’s 1985 anti-alcohol campaign began with cuts in the production and sale of alcoholic beverages, combined with hefty price increases and a number of administrative penalties for alcohol abuse.

A public information campaign was also started where posters were placed in workplaces and public spaces depicting the dangers of alcohol and the benefits of not drinking it. These posters would go on to have a limited effect on the already heavily ingrained drinking culture of the Soviet citizens.

In 3 years, per capita consumption of state-produced alcoholic beverages was cut by a remarkably high 67 percent. However, one of the most important downfalls of this campaign was the drastically decreased tax revenue from alcohol. With the new prices of alcohol being so high many Soviet citizens stopped buying alcohol from the state-owned shops, putting the already weak economy in a big budget deficit.

The second problem was that many households began brewing their own moonshine, especially in the countryside, using very rudimentary tools. This not only created cheap alcohol but also badly filtered alcohol leading to an even bigger health crisis developing as a result of this borderline poison now being consumed.

Soviet anti-alcohol posters

“Underpass — to the ‘next world.” 1988.

By 1987 it was clear that the anti-alcohol campaign utterly failed. Although, many statistical series on mortality, morbidity, and alcohol-related social disturbances showed significant and rapid improvement during the campaign. But, the general benefits slowly began to disappear. With the economy in ruin, Gorbachev had to reverse the changes he made in 1985 officially ending the campaign in 1987.

Ten years after the start of the anti-alcohol campaign and on the occasion of its anniversary, Gorbachev gave an interview to Radio Liberty. The former general secretary explained that the launching of the campaign had been necessary because “they had made the country drunk as a way to solve budget problems” and expressed grief that “consumption of alcohol had reached 10.3 liters per person, including children and old people”.

But the general secretary might have had access to the secret data of the Soviet State Statistical Committee on the actual consumption of alcohol, including illegal alcohol, showing consumption of 13.8 liters. Gorbachev asserted that the “resolution was moderate” and that “later people, fearful of losing their portfolios and chairs”, showed “real bolshevism at the stage of execution”.

In this article, we’ve collected Soviet anti-alcohol posters from the 1960s through the 1980s. With striking, colorful graphics and stark metaphors, the posters cast alcoholism as a snake choking the life of vivacious young men. Drinkers grow slothful and lazy, abandon their families, endanger their coworkers, or become murderous brutes. Some of the posters and more can be found on Soviet Anti-Alcohol Posters by Fuel Publishing.

Soviet anti-alcohol posters

“We will overcome!” (Text on snake: “Alcoholism.”) 1985.

Soviet anti-alcohol posters

“Not among trees or grasses, the serpent has warmed up among us. Don’t suck on him, mammals, or you’ll turn into a reptile yourself.” 1972.

Soviet anti-alcohol posters

“Don’t drink your life away.” 1977.

Soviet anti-alcohol posters

“Either, or.” 1983.

Soviet anti-alcohol posters

“Drunkenness won’t be tolerated!” 1977.

Soviet anti-alcohol posters

“His inner world.” 1987.

Soviet anti-alcohol posters

“Rowdy partying ends with a bitter hangover.” (Tattoo text: “I love order.”) 1988.

Soviet anti-alcohol posters

“This is a shameful union — a slacker + vodka!” 1980.

Soviet anti-alcohol posters

A Soviet anti-alcohol poster from 1930. The text exhorts people to “smash” alcohol, describing it as “the enemy of the cultural revolution.”

Soviet anti-alcohol posters

A poster from 1929. A child changes the word “Spirit” into “Sport.” In 1929, the Soviet government ordered a massive closure of beer stalls and other places selling alcohol.

Soviet anti-alcohol posters

The text on this 1929 poster reads: “Shame on those getting paid at the black cash desk!” This desk was where people seen as having violated work discipline were paid. The poster links alcohol abuse with low productivity, a big concern during the first Five-Year Plan.

Soviet anti-alcohol posters

“Got drunk, cursed, broke a tree — it is shameful now to look people in the face.” During another anti-alcohol drive in 1958, sales of vodka were forbidden in many places.

Soviet anti-alcohol posters

“And they say that we are pigs…” Another poster from 1958.

Soviet anti-alcohol posters

A poster from 1959 warns that foreign spies are hunting for hard drinkers.

Soviet anti-alcohol posters

“Not a single drop!” The label on the bottle reads “Port wine.” The poster is from 1961.

Soviet anti-alcohol posters

“We will expel the drinkers from the workplace!” A poem by Vladimir Mayakovsky is referenced in this 1966 poster. The pipe is labeled “Defect,” the bottle “Vodka.”

Soviet anti-alcohol posters

In 1972, the message was simple: “Stop — before it’s too late.”

Soviet anti-alcohol posters

“It is time to stop collective partying!” The anti-alcohol campaign of 1972 coincided with plans to reduce the production of strong alcoholic drinks, while increasing output of nonalcoholic drinks, wine, and beer. By the end of the 1970s, alcohol consumption reached the highest level in the country’s history.

Soviet anti-alcohol posters

“A shameful union — a slacker and vodka!” This poster was issued in Ukraine in 1981.

Soviet anti-alcohol posters

“And I’m not the one mother loves.” The label on the bottle says “Wine.” Another poster from 1982.

Soviet anti-alcohol posters

This 1985 poster has tomato juice delivering a knockout blow to a bottle of vodka. In 1985, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev announced a large-scale anti-alcohol campaign with partial alcohol prohibition, also known as the “dry law.” Prices of alcohol went up and sales were severely restricted.

Soviet anti-alcohol posters

The poster shows a bottle tearing off a label for fortified white wine, replacing it with one for “natural juice.” The text says: “This new look suits me.”

Soviet anti-alcohol posters

“Socially dangerous”, 1985.

Soviet anti-alcohol posters

“Bartered”.

Soviet anti-alcohol posters

“Vodka entails”.

Soviet anti-alcohol posters

“Alcoholism” (compared with a snake).

Soviet anti-alcohol posters

“It also happens”.

Soviet anti-alcohol posters

“Remember, lad, accuracy is important!”.

Soviet anti-alcohol posters

“Rich inner content”.

Soviet anti-alcohol posters

“Alcohol is an active partner in crime”.

Soviet anti-alcohol posters

“Spare the unborn child!”.

Soviet anti-alcohol posters

“Reason: drunkenness”.

Soviet anti-alcohol posters

“Do not be a prisoner of bad habits”.

Soviet anti-alcohol posters

“Huckster is the worst enemy”.

Soviet anti-alcohol posters

“Alcohol – the enemy of reason”.

Soviet anti-alcohol posters

“Much evil and wrongdoing to the family.” The text on the bottle says vodka. 1977.

Soviet anti-alcohol posters

“His palette is rather broad, from kerosene to varnishes. And no one has been able to figure out so far how to talk sense into such a… ‘connoisseur’!”

(Photo credit: Russian Archives / Alcohol by Fuel Publishing / A Contemporary: History of Alcohol in Russia by Alexandr Nemtsov).