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

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.”

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