Lots of Problems with Alcohol

In the 1980’s the Soviet Union realized there was a direct link between alcohol consumption and many persistent social problems and health problems in the nation. There were several warning signs from studying data acquired from the previous decade, one huge one is how much money the Soviet Union made from the sales tax of alcohol. In 1979 it was 25.4 billion rubles from the sales tax of alcohol alone, more than the total gained from income tax. There was also a lot of domestic and petty crimes that were linked to alcohol, and even workplace incidents, or people just not showing up to work. So shortly after Mikhail Gorbachev gained power in 1985, he set up several measures to try and reduce alcohol consumption. One of the more famous of these measures was the law that made it illegal to buy or sell alcohol in restaurants or bars before 2:00 P.M. There was also more restrictions on what establishments were allowed to sell alcohol, and eventually the sales tax on alcohol was raised. There was even in some regions a system of “coupons” for the purchase of alcohol, with an individual only allowed so many of these coupons. These measures were actually pretty successful, there was a noticeable decline in alcohol consumption, but there were also several negative effects as well.

An anti-alcohol poster from 1954, Gorbachev wasn’t the only one to try and reduce alcohol consumption. 


Unsurprisingly these new anti-alcohol policies weren’t very popular with the general population and it mirrored several of the same negative effects as we experience here in the United States during Prohibition. An increase in organized crime dealing in alcohol, poorly set up moonshining facilities that lea to health risks for those that consume it. There was also a severe drop in how much the Soviet Union made from the sales tax of alcohol.

The green writing at the top says, Vodka brings with it…

Along with all the laws and policies that were made to reduce alcohol consumption and sale, there was also a sort of propaganda campaign against alcohol. The Soviet Union tried to educate the masses on the health risks of alcohol and how what sort of lives alcoholics live. Posters were created, literature was made, even songs were written about trying to live life in sobriety, or the dangers of drinking. Volunteer Temperance Societies were made to try and enforce these measures on the civil level. While there were successes with the anti-alcohol campaign, it proved to be too costly for the Soviet Union with the loss of revenue from alcohol sales tax. The campaign ended up only lasting for roughly two years, from 1985 to 1987.


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Coon Rapids?

Who was the first leader of the Soviet Union to visit the Unites States of America? That’s right it was Nikita Khrushchev along with his family, even his son-in-law Alexei Adzhubei back in 1959, from September 15th to the 27th of the same month.  And Khrushchev saw all the sights to see in America, he visited the White House obviously and Camp David too, but he also went to many major cities. He and his family visited the major cultural centers of New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, being met by the mayors of each respective city and even Eleanor Roosevelt in New York. There were also visits to Pittsburgh and Des Moines Iowa, with the trip to Pittsburgh being that Khrushchev wanted to see the steel industry there and Des Moines because of the meat-packing businesses located there. Now there were two other towns that Khrushchev visited: Beltsville Maryland and Coon Rapids Iowa, these seemed to be the odd balls of the list of places that Khrushchev saw in America. Beltsville isn’t so strange since it’s only about half an hour away from the White House and it was home to an Agricultural Experiment Station. But Coon Rapids, Iowa, what could be so interesting to Khrushchev in Coon Rapids? Apparently corn and a man named Roswell Garst.


Joe Munroe. Roswell Garst and Nikita Khrushchev
Nikita Khrushchev and Roswell Garst

There needs to be a little bit of background information to understand why Khrushchev would be so interested in corn and Garst. First off state enforced rationing in the Soviet Union didn’t end until 1947 and Khrushchev gains power in 1953, so there’s a major reason for Khrushchev wanting to improve the quality of life in the Soviet Union. Second, Khrushchev’s visit to Coon Rapids wasn’t his first time meeting Garst, Garst had been in the Soviet Union before in 1955 trying to sell his corn. The reason that Garst was in the Soviet Union at this time was because of a sort of agricultural exchange program between the United States and the Soviet Union. As for Khrushchev’s interest in corn, he viewed it as a way to supplement the overall meat production. Corn would be used as a feed crop for cattle, corn fed cattle usually grew larger and a larger cow means more meat.

Short video of a conversation between Khrushchev and Garst when Khrushchev was visiting Garst’s farm

This new Corn Campaign, along with the Virgin Lands Campaign, were implemented to provide more food for the Soviet Union. The Corn Campaign was a success, for the first two years but Soviet farmers soon discovered that corn was not really suited for their land. The first two years were largely a success because of unusually hot weather which was favorable for growing corn.



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Styling with Stilyaga

Shortly after the second World War and into the early 1960’s in the Soviet Union there was a sort of social counter culture revolution. With exposure to western culture, especially American culture from the second World War, many men and women took a liking to it especially to jazz music. The name for the men who took part in this counter culture was the Stilyaga, generally used as a negative comment.  One author in 1956 described the usage of the word stilyaga “Here in our country the word ‘style’ has come to mean only bad things and the word “stilyaga” to denote a person of bad style.” (Rusakova). In popular media a stereotypical Stilyaga is portrayed as a man who dresses in an ill-fitting zoot suit that has outrageous designs and/or colors, they also had a tendency to use a different manner of speech. While part of the Stilyaga movement was an appreciation for certain aspects of western culture, it was also used as a blanket term for anyone who deviated from the accepted social norms.

Boris Prorokov’s Papa’s Triumph (1954) is a stereotypical depiction of a Stilyaga

It wasn’t really an organised movement that was trying to accomplish anything significant, it was really more about the appreciation of American culture. It was frowned upon by older generations and by people in authority but not taken as a very serious threat. Besides the men who would dress in outlandish zoot suits, many other men were considered stilyaga. Someone who uses a more American version of their own Russian name, puts only the bare minimum effort in at work, doesn’t take responsibility for his actions if ever possible, these sorts of behaviors would earn someone the title of stilyaga.

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Soviet Shock Workers and Stakhavonites

Stalin was trying to bring Russia into a modern age in terms of industry and economy with the installment of the First Five Year Plan. The incredibly optimistic goals set in place by the plan required a huge increase in production by workers in practically all fields of labor. In a capitalist economy, workers would be incentivized by being paid more for doing more work or for doing higher quality work. That can’t really be done in a socialist economy though, with the promise of equal pay for all workers, so traditional incentives can’t really be used effectively. That’s were the title of “shock worker” came into play, the term was used late during the Russian Civil War to denote an outstanding worker who performed far above their required quota. The idea was that the title would lead to natural socialist competition, wanting to outperform your fellow worker to help your country out more because it would benefit everyone involved. When it was brought back during the First Five Year Plan though, it didn’t have much success, it was only an honorary title after all. Shock workers were given a badge in recognition, but not much else in terms of compensation. In 1929 out of all the workers in Russia 29% were given the title of shock worker and by 1930 65% of all workers, across all fields of labor were considered shock workers. The title of shock worker had lost most of its meaning; when the majority of all workers are considered elite it doesn’t really feel that way.

One of these men wouldn’t be considered a shock worker

After the lack of success of the shock worker program had, the Stakhanovite movement started late in the year 1935. The movement came after a certain miner, Aleksi Stakhanov, mined 102 tons of coal during a single shift. Hewing 102 tons of coal in just six hours the method that Aleksi used to achieve this feat required at least four miners working together, but since he came up with the method he received all the credit. Aleksi became a bit of a celebrity afterwards, getting to meet with even appearing on the cover of Time magazine and he is the namesake for the entire movement.

Aleksi Stakhanovite on the cover of Time magazine

It had the element of socialistic competition that the shock worker title had but it did allow workers to make more money, only if they produced more than their set quota though. The Stakhanovite movement encouraged workers to find new innovative ways to produce more, but it wasn’t just about how to increase worker productivity, it was about an entire way of life. Stakhanovites were shown as the model citizen that all Russians should aspire to become, in all ways of life. The slogan of the movement was “Life has become better, and happier too.” which was made into a song by Alexander Alexandrov, the same man who formed the Red Army Choir and wrote the Russian National Anthem. The Stakhanovite movement was a propaganda movement though, often portraying the Stakhanovites in only a positive manner, showing how they were liked by everyone and how great their lifestyle was. This made these Stakhanovite workers more like mythological heroes than actual people though, ignoring the harsh reality that was happening under Stalin’s rule.








Leon Trotsky



Leon Trotsky, born Nleon trotskyovember 7th, 1879 in Ukraine under his given name Lev Davidovich Bronstein. The name change occurred after he had been exiled to Siberia in 1898 for being one of the founding members of the South Russia Worker’s Union, an early Russian Marxist party. He remained in exile in Siberia from 1898 to 1902, where he acquired a forged passport with the name Leon Trotsky, and he kept this new name to his death. Trotsky was also one of the political leaders of the Menshevik party during the 1905 Russian Revolution, which would result in another exile to Siberia for Trotsky, but he again left after just a few years and lived in different parts of Europe until he returned to Russia after news of the 1917 Russian Revolution reached him. Trotsky had been a Menshevik, but after learning that the Menshevik party supported the ideals of a constitution and supported the Provisional Government, Trotsky joined the Bolsheviks and was elected to the Bolshevik Central Committee. When the Bolsheviks gained control of Russia, Trotsky would be appointed as the People’s Commissar for the Army and Navy, and the Commissar for Foreign Affairs.

Leon Trotsky - ArmyLenin wanted to tear down all institutions and organizations of the old government, this even include the armed forces of Russia. This meant that Trotsky had to disassemble the old Imperial Russian Army and create a new communist army at the same time. Trotsky was trying to accomplish this in 1918, while Russia was still in the midst of World War I. It soon became evident to the leaders of the Bolshevik party, that this wasn’t feasibly possible, that’s one of the main reasons Russia decided to negotiate with the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire) for a cease-fire. With the other main reason being that the Bolsheviks came into power with the promise of peace, bread, and land, and if you’re not able to follow through with one of three simple political promises, you don’t seem like a very competent government. As the Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Leon Trotsky was one of the men Russia sent to negotiate in mid-January of 1918, the negotiations lasted until March 3, 1918 for Russia. Throughout January and early February, the terms that the Central Powers were willing to give would result in a large amount of territory being annexed by Germany and Austria-Hungary, Trotsky and other Bolshevik leaders weren’t willing to accept these terms though. So the Germans continued their assaults into Russia on February 10, by February 18 the Bolsheviks pleaded to start peace talks back up. This resulted in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, after the treaty was put into effect Trotsky put his focus back into building up a new army for Russia. An army that would be known as the Red Army, made up of peasants and workers who had to take part in required military training as civilians. They would soon be tested against the Whites in the Russian Civil War.







Murmansk Railway

Group. (Myself with Two Other, Murman)

In this photo Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii is shown on the right with his dog and two unnamed guards from the Murmansk Railway. If I’m being completely honest the reason this photo caught my attention is that the two guards are giving thumbs up, people in older photos tend to be so stoic that this was refreshing to see. The other reasons I found it interesting was that Sergei was in this photo, and that this railway was being constructed during the entirety of World War I.

The photo was taken in 1915, construction on the Murmansk Railway started in 1914 and ended in the spring of 1917. Guards were a necessity not only because the railway was being built in the midst of World War I, but because German and Austrian prisoners of war were used as forced laborers to to try and make up for the labor shortage caused by the war. The railway didn’t really have an affect on the outcome of World War I, it was completed too late to make a difference. But it was useful for the Russians in World War II, the city of Murmansk is a port in the north of Russia and the railway was used to move American goods that arrived from the Lend-Lease Act.

Austrian Prisoners of War near a Barrack, near Kiappeselga

Pictured above are some German and Austrian prisoners of war who worked on the Murmansk Railway in front of their barracks