The Reason and Results of Russia's Dry Policy

by General Alexis Polivanov in The New Republic

The purpose of the universal Prohibition in Russia of the sale of whisky and wine, which was introduced by the will of His Imperial Majesty at the beginning of the present war, was to concentrate the national spirit upon the heavy trials which were in store for the people, to remove the factors which have a detrimental effect upon the physical strength of the nation and a demoralizing influence upon its spirit, and to improve the economic prosperity of the nation, which sustains heavy injuries on account of any war, but which, at the same time, is the source of power and means for armed conflicts between nations.

And yet, the measure was not accidental. His Imperial Majesty's will and thought was directed, it even before the war. This was expressed in the Imperial rescript, addressed to the Minister of Finance on January 30, 1914. From the height of the throne it was firmly declared that it is no longer "possible to place the prosperity of the treasury in dependence upon the destruction of the spiritual and economic powers of a large number of my subjects." The war merely hastened the practical realization of this decision.

At the present time the government, entirely occupied with the conduct of this unparalleled war and the organization of the national forces for a triumphant termination of the war, is, naturally, deprived of an opportunity to make an extended study and to determine the results of this "enormous and noble reform," as you have so aptly termed it.

Yet, one cay say with firm conviction that this measure has fulfilled entirely the purpose for which it was introduced. We feel it throughout our public life, as well as the governmental activity. just now before me lies a pamphlet, entitled "War and the Kostroma Villages," published by the Kostroma Government Zemstvo. It is a summary of the results of an investigation, made by the Zemstvo among the peasants of the government. It is the real voice of the people.

And this is what the people, in an overwhelming majority, say on the subject: "Thanks to temperance, the results of the war are scarcely noticeable at all;"

"The burden of the war and the poor crops in our locality (1914) seems to be much lighter for the people to bear, because there are no drunken fumes, that used to becloud mother Russia;"

"The efficiency of labor has increased;"

"The drunkards have disappeared from the streets of the village, they are better dressed and better situated;"

"Beggars have also disappeared from the streets;'

"Profane language is scarcely heard in the streets, and quarrels, scandals, fights and brawls begin to disappear;"

"The religious feelings seem to be deepened, as holidays become quieter;"

"Men's treatment of women has improved, as well as the treatment of children;"

"More respect is accorded to women as mothers and housewives;"

"The women are happy and pray God that the sale of liquor may never again be allowed. In their joy they are almost ready to bless the war."

The investigation brought out that crime has diminished, as well as arson.

The villages of the Kostroma Government are not, of course, an exception among the villages of Russia. Only this particular district was fortunate enough to find statisticians to study its situation.

The beneficent results, brought about by the abolition of the liquor trade, affecting the population of the whole empire and the life of the peasantry, are evident to the Ministry of War from the manner in which passes the process of calling to the colors of new conscripts, as well as reservists.

Everywhere the men appeared promptly, quietly and in all cases the clothes and footwear brought by them were entirely satisfactory.

All these consequences may be explained also by the fact that the abolition of the liquor trade is thoroughly in keeping with the spirit of the people, created by the war. The Russian people always regard the war with a religious fervor, as the "will of God," accepting it as a "trial sent to the people by God."

The national conscience of the Russian people cannot but feel abhorrence and bewilderment at the "drunken storms and attacks" which are used very often in the course of the war by our enemy, who intoxicate their soldiers before battle in order to raise their courage. The Russian soldier does not need narcotic stimulants for performing his duty to the Tzar and his country.

You ask what effect the abolition of the liquor, trade has had upon the army. As far as the army is concerned, at the present time, more than ever before, one is justified in saying that it is the "armed people." And a sober people has a sober army.

Moreover, the army has always been in the forefront of fighting against the drink evil. The War Department wants men who are strong both morally and physically. Drunkenness has always been its greatest enemy, but attempted to keep it out of the army only by means of punitive measures.

However, towards the end of the nineties the War Department decided to wage war against alcoholism by means of positive measures.

An enumeration of these measures would be too long and cannot be given here; therefore, I shall mention only the most recent and important steps undertaken against alcoholism in the army. In 1908 the "government -lass of wine" was forbidden. In 1910 alcohol was eliminated from the military stores, used in time of war and is no longer purchased even during mobilizations. Finally, directly before the war, in May, 1914, a special order (NO. 309) was issued by the War Department, after being confirmed by His Imperial Majesty. This order introduced a series of measures, directed against the use of alcoholic drinks in the army. All these measures aimed at guarding the army from the evil effects of the use of alcohol and "to conserve in the army its strength, health and spirit, which are so essential for military efficiency, both in times of peace and war."

As you see, His Imperial Majesty's rescript to his Minister of Finance, as well as this order to the army, followed the same general aim, viz., conservation of the national health, they were links of that. same chain, whose last link was the abolition of the liquor trade at the beginning of the war.

What do the people expect from this measure in the future? Let me answer this with the nation's own words, as they are expressed in the pamphlet I have already quoted: "If there will be no more liquor, Russia will be the richest country in the world."


From the November 1915 issue of The American Patriot

Westerville History MuseumWesterville History Museum

As the site of the Anti-Saloon League’s former headquarters, the Westerville History Museum works to preserve the history of the temperance movement, the passage of the 18th Amendment, and the Prohibition era.
As the site of the Anti-Saloon League’s former headquarters, the Westerville History Museum works to preserve the history of the temperance movement, the passage of the 18th Amendment, and the Prohibition era.

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