A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
May 11, 2006 Volume 36 / Number 8


Under the Influence: Working-Class Drinking, Temperance, and Cultural Revolution in Russia, 1895–1932

Kate Transchel

Kate Transchel has just had her book Under the Influence: Working-Class Drinking, Temperance, and Cultural Revolution in Russia, 1895–1932 published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. The result of many years of research, including two years living in Russia (part of that time in Siberia), the book is the first investigation of drinking under both Tsarist and Soviet regimes in Russia.

Transchel’s interest in Russia started in the years of the Cold War, when she remembers “duck and cover” exercises as a schoolchild in the 1950s. She was curious about the Russians who were going to bury us. She maintained that interest into college and received a BA from the University of Hawaii in U.S./Soviet Relations, and a master’s and a PhD from the University of North Carolina.

In the book, Transchel examines the social context of drinking and how, as the context changed under starkly different regimes, both its definition changed and how it dealt with it changed. She explores three aspects of working-class drinking: (1) how alcohol functioned to structure relationships in Russian villages; (2) the gendered aspects of drinking; and (3) the economics of drinking.

The governments in both Tsarist and Soviet Russia received a large part of their revenue—as much as 33 percent—from the sale of liquor. When the industrial revolution began and workers were needed who would show up to work consistently and at a particular time, drinking became a problem. The government launched anti-alcohol campaigns to moderate drinking. They tried shifting distribution at one point, flooding peasant regions and drying up city sources, and, after the Revolution, defined drinking out of existence as incompatible with a socialist state.

David Hoffmann, Soviet historian at The Ohio State University, wrote: “In this carefully researched and well-written book, Kate Transchel examines the ill-fated temperance movement in Tsarist and Soviet Russia. By illustrating the persistence of popular drinking traditions, she vividly demonstrates the centrality of alcohol to Russian working-class sociability and the limits of directed cultural transformation.”

Transchel has been at CSU, Chico since 1996. In 1998, she received a $25,000 post-doctoral grant from the National Council on Eurasian and East European Research for field research in Russia and Ukraine. She also received a National Endowment Summer Stipend to supplement her work.”

—Kathleen McPartland