For this piece I shall be commenting on Trotsky’s attitude towards alcohol in his book Problems of Life, most of this will draw on the chapter Vodka, The Church, and The Cinema – page references are from Problems of Everyday Life published by Pathfinder Press
The media has been full of stories about ‘binge drinking’ over the last few years. In particular, Britain is thought of as being the ‘binge’ capital of the world. The health consequences of binge drinking are numerous including things such as liver damage etc. People tend to get to do things they usually regret the following day as well as waking up with hangovers. The question we find ourselves asking is why do people put themselves through this?
Trotsky argues that alcohol is used by working class people to distract themselves from the dreariness and boredom of their lives – he says it is “a small flask containing a whole world of images.” (pg.52)
The Russian Revolution inherited what Trotsy terms “the liquidation of the vodka monopoly”(pg.36). I believe this to mean that the sale of vodka had been prohibited at some point during the Great War (please correct me if I’m wrong). In context of this, I think Trotsky is right to say “the fundamental fact that the abolition of the system by which the country encouraged people to drink is one of the iron assets of the revolution”(pg. 37). That doesn’t mean however that socialists support the prohibition of alcohol altogether. As Trotsky explains the reason why this was useful in the situation in Russia was that other entertainments would be partaken instead of this, which would improve the capabilities of the Russian working class, rather than stupefy them like alcohol does.
For present day Marxists I think we would only support alcohol prohibition in a workers state under conditions similar to those of the Russian Revolution. That means as I have said in general we don’t support it. Rather we would seek to supplant the role of alcohol by other alternative entertainments, but fundamentally by removing the alienation caused by the capitalist system that causes the dreariness and boredom Trotsky speaks of that makes people seek and escape such as alcohol or drugs. Only with these measures can the problem of binge drinking be solved.
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