Star Tribune deputy editorial page editor Eric Ringham picked up the fine column by our friend Joey Tartakovsky adapted from the current issue of the Claremont Review of Books and published in the Los Angeles Times a week ago Sunday: “For the love of vodka.” This morning Joey wrote to ask if we had wielded our vast influence with the Star Tribune to place his piece. Do I have to admit that Eric has a good eye for an outstanding if offbeat piece? He says he found it on the Los Angeles Times wire last week and thought it was something of a must-read.
Writing about Russia and vodka, Tartakovsky picks an unlikely subject out of which to wring Churchillian aphorisms:
In 1917, the Bolsheviks banned vodka and condemned drunkenness as a “social evil irreconcilable with the proletarian ideology,” perhaps because they believed, as Friedrich Engels had stated, that drinking was the bane of the working classes. It is probably closer to the truth to say that work was the bane of the drinking classes. No vocation without intoxication, cried the workers, and in 1924, the ban was reversed — an early instance of Soviet utopianism succumbing to Russian reality. It was downhill from there.
Mr. T. continues:
Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika included a “war on drunkenness.” Alcohol consumption began to decline. At the same time, there emerged unusual shortages of cologne, mouthwash and other alcohol-containing substances, as well as sugar, which can be employed in home brewing. Ultimately, instead of defeating alcoholism, perestroika ended in history’s biggest hangover.
Mr. T. is not done yet:
The informed worker knows that vodka’s therapeutic merits far surpass those of the Soviet-Russian mental health system.
Mr. T. saves his best for last:
Russia is a land that has stumbled fatefully from Third Rome to Third International to Third World, and vodka has always been there to help things along.
Joey’s complete unexpurgated reflections on vodka are posted at the CRB site: “The opiate of the masses.”