The opiate of the masses

One of the highlights of the current issue of the Claremont Review of Books is Joey Tartakovsky’s reflections on vodka. Today’s Los Angeles Times publishes an edited version: “Vodka, elixir of the masses.” 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.


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