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best period of the USSR?

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Post 09 Jul 2016, 17:33
Hey everyone, I'm new to the Soviet-Empire website and I signed up because of a project I'm doing. It's about the Soviet Union (surprise!). I have learned a lot, and I've been focusing on life in the USSR. I have some questions and I reckon you could help me.

1. What was the best time to live in the USSR/when did the USSR reach its peak in living standards and power? I'd say the late 1960s and early 1970s because these periods were just before the era of stagnation that started at around 1975.

2. Was alcoholism a major problem in the USSR?
3. Is alcoholism in Russia worse than it was in the USSR?
4. When did alcoholism actually become a 'problem'? I'd say 1980s because the economy was becoming worse.
5. Did alcoholism affect family life? Did workers rape their wives or harass people in the streets? Were the streets becoming less safe because of alcoholism?

I know that there is already a thread about this but it doesn't answer my questions.

Thanks, comrades and genossen!

Post 09 Jul 2016, 21:40
1. Brezhnev era, I'd say. Height of USSR's "superpower" status. It all began to unravel in Afghanistan.
2. There were always state sponsored anti-alcohol campaigns, so I'd say yes.
3.Yes, because under capitalism the Boyar oligarchs have a product to sell and a profit to make and very little regulation to stop them from doing it as they see fit.
4. Always been a problem, now worse under capitalism because less possible to regulate.
5. Alcoholism always affects family life. Streets in some areas may now be far less safe, thanks to the dissolution of the Soviet identity. A Kazakh in Petersburg is now an outright foreigner, rather than fellow citizen. Vodka and Great Russian chauvinism make for bad bedfellows. I don't think wife beating is worse than it's traditionally been, but it's still a frequent occurrence (plenty of correlation between alcohol and wife beating in the West as well).
Post 10 Jul 2016, 07:41

Thanks for your reply but I would still like to get back at the fifth question. Because I would like to focus on my favourite time period in Soviet history: the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Was the alcoholism problem in the 1970s worst?
But was it actually dangerous to be on the streets because of drunk people trying to harass you (early 1970s)? I mean, if the problem's way worse now than it was in the USSR I don't really think that alcoholism was that much of a BIG problem?
And finally: were there many families with alcoholist problems? Was alcoholism so bad that it occurred in every family?

Post 10 Jul 2016, 11:53
Welcome USSR; nice username by the way

You're generally correct - living standards were probably the best in the early-to-mid 70s, although there are a few caveats. In terms of housing, clothing, food, there is no doubt that the 60s and especially the 70s were leagues ahead of the 1940s and 50s, when the country was devastated by war.

However, in terms of availability of certain goods, I've heard many accounts from old people living in the late Stalin period who remember stores (at least in regional capitals and in Moscow) being filled to the brim with various gourmet foods (cheeses, meats, wines, etc.) which would later become almost impossible to find without lines or 'blat' in the 60s and onward. This is probably due to the currency and price reforms in 1961, which made many goods cheaper but subsequently more scarce, and to more lax legal discipline, which led to a thriving market of underground corruption which many if not most retailers were in on.

Moreover, characterizing the late 70s and early 80s as a time of economic troubles isn't really fair; it was more a period of economic stagnation - i.e. continued growth, but very slow growth (1-2%). Just as importantly, the effectiveness of regional party bosses in governance had a huge effect on local living standards; in other words, if in the Belorussian Republic a local party boss could get fired if one of the promised 10 kinds of kielbasa was found absent in a store, in parts of Siberia and Central Russia shortages were the norm.

For instance, in response to the intense criticism of former Sverdlovsk region secretary Boris Yeltsin, who began calling for more and more radical anti-socialist reforms in the late 1980s, Yegor Ligachev, the former party boss of the Tomsk region, recalled that for his region, the so-called period of stagnation saw tremendous socio-economic development, while in Yeltsin's case, it ended up with his region being put on food vouchers.

-> Incidentally, Ligachev's memoirs are available in English; this means that if you want to get some insight into an Orthodox communist's struggle against Gorbachev and co., you can probably find them in your local university library, or on Amazon.

With regard to alcoholism, it certainly was a problem in the late Soviet period, and even more of one now, even though perhaps millions of people died from it in the 1990s.

Here's a chart illustrating the problem:


Yearly consumption of strong alcoholic drinks per capita, liters of pure alcohol 15% or more. Red bar shows Russia, blue Finland, green Norway, yellow Sweden, purple EU. Source: WHO

The question of the problem of alcoholism in the Soviet Union has been brought up before on this site. On one such occasion, I quoted from British journalist Michael Binyon's 'Life in Russia', a tough but mostly fair English language account of life in the country in the early 1980s:


Finally, with regard to your last question(s):

Alcoholism certainly did affect family life. Nonetheless, it cannot be said that it affected 'every family', unless you count extended families. Many people wouldn't touch the stuff at all, out of principle or due to alcoholism in the family. Moreover, criminal punishment was very tough on cases of rape and or physical harassment, whether alcohol-fueled or not. As to whether the streets were less safe, I don't think so. Less safe in the 80s compared to the early 60s maybe, but certainly not compared to the 90s or today, where there is a key-coded door to every apartment block and a metal door on most individual apartments. This has to do not so much with alcohol as with the general social environment at the time, and the knowledge or public confidence in the fact that criminals would be caught.

In the Soviet period, police would drive around at night in search of any drunks acting in a disorderly manner, and would take them to a detox center for the night. As punishment, they would often take whatever money the drunks had on them. For the most part, the conditions in the detox center were also kept as unpleasant as possible, so that offenders wouldn't have an incentive to return.

In his book, Binyon refers to the long-running campaign to shame alcoholics. This is well-illustrated I think in this 1965 clip by Fitil, a popular series of satirical short films tackling all sorts of socio-economic problems in Soviet society:

The clip, commenting on the tradition of drinking 'for three', pretty much speaks for itself. At the end, the narrator notes "We have cut this hooliganism short, and there's hardly a need to talk about the moral of the story."
Post 10 Jul 2016, 12:43
Hello soviet78,

Thanks for your reply!!! So actually the alcoholism rose dramatically in the 1980s and not in the 1970s?
Post 10 Jul 2016, 12:59
Well in the mid-1980s there was an anti-alcohol campaign which, although it did have many positive social effects (including growing fertility rates and healthier children) had negative consequences as well (costing the state budget billions of rubles in lost revenues, resulting in the rise of unsafe, sometimes deadly homemade alcohol, and shortages in the components used to make alcohol, such as sugar). When the campaign was called off, alcohol consumption began to rise again; in social terms this rise in consumption was driven by the country's socio-economic disintegration from 1989-1990 on. It was then compounded in the post-Soviet period when prices were lowered, the state lost its monopoly on production and the country otherwise balanced on the brink of total social disintegration, with privateers, the mafia and the Church stepping in to profit from peoples' misery through the escape that alcohol could provide. Thinking back, it really is a miracle that Russia didn't disintegrate entirely in those years, but that's another story.
Post 10 Jul 2016, 14:37
Hi soviet78,

yeah I read about Gorbachev's anti-alcohol campaign which kind of failed. Thanks for answering my questions! So just to be sure:

Were there A LOT of drunk workers/people in the late 1960s and early 1970s?
And was alcoholism in the late 1960s and early 1970s worse than the 1980s? I read something about the infant mortality rate increasing a little bit in the early 1970s and then decreasing again.
Post 10 Jul 2016, 20:58
Andropov was very anti-alcohol - to my knowledge, Soviet78 should be the ultimate source here, though - as he linked alcoholism with poor factory output. I read that KGB was patrolling the restaurants and identifying people during mornings when they should be at work.
Also, anti-alcohol campaign in the 80ies caused less income for the state and they recorded a high rise of products with alcohol in it.
Post 12 Jul 2016, 17:01
Thank you for your replies, comrades!
Post 13 Jul 2016, 10:59
Hello, I would like to ask more.

Was powering the apartments with electricity a problem? I'm focusing on the late 1960s and early 1970s

Was food quality alright? Once again, I'm focusing on the late 1960s and early 1970s.

And there was enough food in these periods, right? There just wasn't a lot of choice, and they just had the basic goods (when there was food available in the shops)

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