Drawing by Natalya Mikhaylenko
In early 1914, the tsar sent a rescript to the Ministry of Finance with an instruction to “improve the economic wellbeing of the people, notwithstanding financial losses,” since budget revenues should be coming not from the sale of something that destroys “the spiritual and economic powers” of the people but from other, healthier sources.
That was a truly radical step, as revenues from vodka sales made up no less than one third of the state budget. Yet, when putting together the budget for 1915 and in spite of the fact that Russia was at war, the State Duma totally excluded vodka revenues. British politician David Lloyd George described it as “the single greatest act of national heroism.” The very possibility of such a move testifies to the enormous economic potential that Russia had at the time.