Vodka Politics: Alcohol, Autocracy, and the Secret History of the Russian State

ISBN : 9780199755592

Mark Lawrence Schrad
512 Pages
163 x 242 mm
Pub date
Apr 2014
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Russia is justly famous for its vodka. Today, the Russian average drinking man consumes 180 bottles of vodka a year, nearly half a bottle a day. But few people realize the enormous-and enormously destructive-role vodka has played in Russian politics. In Vodka Politics, Mark Schrad reveals that almost every Russian ruler has utilized alcohol to strengthen his governing power and that virtually every major event in Russian history has been tinged with alcohol. The Tsars used alcohol to dampen dissent and exert control over their courts, while the government's monopoly over its sale has provided a crucial revenue stream for centuries. In one of the book's many remarkable insights, Schrad shows how Tsar Nicholas II's decision to ban alcohol in 1914 contributed to the 1917 revolution. After taking power, Stalin lifted the ban and once again used mandatory drinking binges to keep his subordinates divided, fearful, confused, and off balance. On such occasions, a drunken Khrushchev routinely pushed the drunken Soviet Deputy Defense Commissar Grigory Kulik into a nearby pond. Under Gorbachev the pendulum swung back the other way, but his crackdown on alcohol consumption in the 1980s backfired, exacerbating the Soviets' fiscal crisis and hastening the 1991 collapse. Today, chronic alcoholism has created a massive health crisis, and life expectancies for men have fallen to an alarmingly low 59 as a consequence. Schrad argues that Russia's storied addiction to vodka is not simply a social problem, but a symptom of a deeper sickness-autocracy. Indeed, Schrad shows that alcoholism and autocracy have gone hand-in-hand throughout Russian history. Drawing upon remarkable archival evidence and filled with colorful anecdotes of the enforced drunkenness Russian leaders imposed on their courts, Vodka Politics offers a wholly new way of understanding Russian political history.


Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: Vodka Politics
Chapter 3: Cruel Liquor-Ivan the Terrible and Alcohol in the Muscovite Court
Chapter 4: The Weird World of Peter the Great
Chapter 5: Russia's Empresses: Power, Conspiracy, and Vodka
Chapter 6: Murder, Intrigue, and the Mysterious Origins of Vodka
Chapter 7: Why Vodka? Russian Statecraft and the Origins of Addiction
Chapter 8: Vodka and the Origins of Corruption
Chapter 9: Vodka Domination, Vodka Resistance
Chapter 10: The Pen, the Sword, and the Bottle
Chapter 11: Drunk at the Front: Alcohol and the Imperial Russian Army
Chapter 12: Nicholas the Drunk, Nicholas the Sober
Chapter 13: Did Prohibition Cause the Russian Revolution?
Chapter 14: Vodka Commies
Chapter 15: Industrialization, Collectivization, Alcoholization
Chapter 16: Vodka and Dissent in the Soviet Union
Chapter 17: Gorbachev and the (Vodka) Politics of Reform
Chapter 18: How Vodka Politics Killed the USSR, and Why That's Not Funny
Chapter 19: Ladies and Gentlemen: Boris Yeltsin
Chapter 20: Alcohol and the Demodernization of Russia
Chapter 21: The Russian Cross
Chapter 22: The Rise and Fall of Putin's ChampionChapter 23: Medvedev Against History
Chapter 24: An End to Vodka Politics?

About the author: 

Mark Schrad is Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Illinois

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