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Late Soviet-era Temperance: “With Joint Forces Against Drunkenness”

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

Editor’s Note: In our quest to bring the international dimensions of temperance and prohibition sentiment into view (a job that, as we have noted, Ken Burns’s recent documentary failed to do), Points this week presents the first in a series of guest posts from Tamás Sajó– art historian, translator, and co-founder (with John Cull [College of the Holy Cross, USA] and Antonio Bernat Vistarini [Universidad de las Islas Baleares, Spain]) of Budapest’s Studiolum Press, which specializes in the electronic publishing of 15th-19th century rare prints and emblem books (a few examples can be found here).  Sajó is also the curator/author of the astonishingly beautiful blog “Poemas del Río Wang,” which focuses on 20th-century European visual propaganda.   It’s his expertise in this latter area that allows him to bring us a series of posts on Russian anti-alcohol propaganda.  Today’s post is devoted almost entirely to representative images from the Gorbachev-era publication “With Joint Forces Against Drunkenness,” which appears in full on the Poemas blog.  Stay tuned over the course of the next few weeks, as Points time-travels to some different moments in the history of “Just Say ‘Nyet.'”

Late 19th-century France and Hungary fought against alcoholism with the rational and visual weapons of the Enlightenment and modern science:

“Here’s the enemy: the alcohol!” (1898, Musee Pedagogique de l'Etat)

By contrast, a hundred years later the Soviet Union–which had already had ample time and opportunity to get disenchanted with the efficiency of these tools–turned back to several centuries old practices: the arguments of proverbs and the visual world of naive folk graphics, the lubok.

Cover: "With Joint Forces." The four corner tondos, clockwise from upper left: Scholars, Technical Development, Rationalization, the Arts

The picture book With Joint Forces against Drunkenness opens with an epigraph from Leo Tolstoy: “It is hard to imagine what a fortunate turn it would be for our life if people finally gave up dazing and poisoning themselves with vodka, wine, tobacco and opium.” Its introduction notes that it was published with the purpose of agitation for Gorbachev’s alcohol ban in 1989.  The twenty-five illustrations were signed by the members of the art school “Soviet Lubok,” established in 1982: V. V. Kondratev (plates 2, 15, 21, 22), I. O. Puhovskaya (3, 6, 7, 9), O. A. Keleinikova (4, 12, 14, 23), V. I. Lenchin (5, 8, 24), G. M. Eskin (10, 16, 19), L. V. Podkorytova (11, 25), Yu. G. Movchin (13), V. P. Lenzin (17, 18) and S. V. Kuznetsov (20).

In the “red tail” of the book, still necessary at that time to clear the authors of any ideological deviation, the artists explain their choice of genre by saying that they wanted to reach back to “the soul of the people.” Whether it was like this or they enjoyed rather the postmodern opportunities of the naive form, the fact is that they created a new tradition, or at least greatly contributed to the legitimation of a tradition which had been getting more and more popular since the late 70s. The influence of this work is to be discovered not so much in a radical reduction of Russian alcohol consumption, but rather in the successful works by such contemporary artists as Andrei Kuznetsov or Vladimir Kamayev.

The plates that follow are representative of the various contributors.

Plate 2: “Yefim had a back ache, / so he was sent on sick-leave in the hospital, / and it is for five days that he has been / just drinking rowan brandy in the home.”

Plate 2

Plate 3: “In wine and tobacco there’s no profit and no honor; he who smokes is burning both his inside and his money.”

Plate 3

Plate 4: Scroll: “For sober life – battle against drunkenness!” – To the left: “Reader: Alcohol is poison!” – To the right: “At the table” – Under the picture: “He drinks and tempts other to drinking.”

Plate 4

Plate 5: “He who drinks will also break plates” – Under the picture: “Only he who leaves hop in peace is really gentle.” – “Life becomes unbearable for the family members of the alcoholic, and especially the children suffer.  Drunkenness leads to the collapse of families and is a leading cause of several crimes.”

Plate 5

Plate 10

Plate 10: “Decent people will avoid three things: drinking, gambling and debauchery. – Card and drink has never any good effect.”

Plate 11: “Two girls were washing at the river/ they were washing, were whitening/ letting their beauty being admired / Oh my beautiful daughter / how heavy yoke is marriage!/ If you’ve got a husband – he’s a drunkard / goes to the pub by singing /comes from the pub by sliding / “Woman, undress!” he is crying /but I do not want to undress / my heart turns away from him.”

Plate 11

Plate 13: “A drunkard is touring the pub, the wife is at home killed by the grief.” – To the left, from above: “He’s a drunkard, lingering in the pub. He just loafs around, and the fence is already lost. The drunkard at home regrets in the evening and starts drinking again in the morning.” – To the right: “The drunkard wallows in filthy puds. The drunkard is even avoided by the cat, while the pig attacks and bites him. A drunk is swearing, the girls just laughing at him.” – Below: “He drained the whole bottle, the blood ran in his head, the green snake has squeezed him, he’s just lying without a word.”

Plate 13

Plate 17

Plate 17: “They were drinking at Filya, so it was Filya whom they have beaten.”

Plate 20: “More people have drowned into vodka than into water.” – Labels: the two winds: “trouble, sorrow”, ship: “Little cruiser of vodka, unreliable friends.” sea: “vodka, wine, cognac”, glass: “cirrhosis”, life buoy: “temperance society.”

Plate 20


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