Fizz the Season

For years champagne has been a symbol of celebration and prosperity. Soviet champagne was a symbol of decadence and comfort immediately after a tumultuous period of famine and immediately prior to horrific fear and uncertainty. Might it be possible that indulgence provoked the events that followed?

Famine. We begin with collectivization and industrialization. The first Five Year Plan was responsible for both.  After Stalin began the campaign to seize grain and other food items in the Urals and western Siberia, he begin organizing collective and state farms, pooling together all peasant resources. Surplus was in abundance. The collectivization of farms set the foundation for the industrialization that was to follow (Freeze, 347). Food however was in short supply. Collectivization, the influx of peasants, and low food processing rates led to an imposed ration on most items (Freeze, 353). This resulted in the famine of 1933 (Freeze, 354).

Prosperity. The year was 1934. Foods and goods, absent for years earlier, suddenly began coming back. Once an elite drink of aristocrats and NEPmen, champagne started popping up on shelves of grocery stores. There was a cultural revolution taking place in a sense. Bourgeois products were available and used by more common people (Freeze, 355). 1934 was a year that marked mass production of champagne. This was in part due to Anton Mikhailovich Frolov-Bragreev developing a new efficient production system that involved fermentation in reservoirs instead of bottles. Production rose from 300,000 bottles per year to 12,000,000 by 1942. Moscow residents indulged in goods without being labeled “bourgeois”. 1934 also saw the abolition of bread rationing. The Bolsheviks decided to abolish the card system for distribution of bread goods and create unrestricted sale to the population. Uniform retail prices were also introduced in the process. Wages of workers and officials and stipends of students were also increased. They lived happy lives, at least for some time.

Confectionary (Minsk, Belorussia) (1936)


Aftermath. Following this period of prosperity, we saw a rise in the production of military essential goods due to industrialization. Production rates of steel, coal, and electricity had multiplied. A major crop failure in 1936 exhausted the reserves and led the state into a crisis (Freeze, 372).

The presence and abundance of soviet champagne was a symbol of prosperity in between two periods of crisis. Do you think this period of prosperity was random? Or does it follow a pattern?

18 thoughts on “Fizz the Season

  1. Alicja, I love that picture of the confectionary – I’m really curious about what a Soviet confectionary would have contained! I really like that your post poses a question to your reader, and the questions you ask are smart and important to consider. What contradictions does the idea of Soviet champagne suggest, and what does that tell you about the Soviet system?

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    1. In my opinion, the biggest contradiction I see, is that champagne seems a bit out of place for Soviets at this time.
      Regarding the confectionery, it’s pretty interesting how different Russian candy is compared to the US. My Russian language professor brought some for us to try and the tastes caught me by surprise.

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  2. Alicja,

    This post is very eye-opening; the symbolism of champagne was not something that I initially noticed. Champagne does appear very noble and decadent, and the extravagance illustrates a true imbalance in society. It reminds me of several other countries’ economic depressions in the 1930s. In the United States, the overabundance in the fields developed into crisis nationally. It always interests me that people’s solutions are often so short-sighted, too. I wonder what other luxuries increased during this time period as well.

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    1. Thanks for the comment! It’s interesting I was thinking about the US with the roaring 20’s immediately prior to the Great Depression as I was researching this topic.

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  3. Hey Alicja! Your post is divided up so nicely and makes it super easy to read. I dig it. Also, the way you go through the lifespan of champagne during the Soviet Union is so clear and concise. I wonder what other goods were originally considered luxuries but then became standard. I know that during the same time in the US, there was a push for electronics that were originally luxuries and then became basic as consumerism was pushed to help with war efforts. It’s interesting to see the parallels between marketing plans.

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    1. Thanks for the comment Annika! You bring up a good point about the U.S. and consumerism. I also found it interesting that bread became unrestricted at this time.

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  4. Alicja – this is a fascinating post about the era of “joyfulness,” as Stalin called it, in the mid-1930s Soviet Union. I previously did not know about the role of champagne in this era; it seems similar to the Stakhanovite movement that I wrote about in my blog post. The Stakhanovite movement was where the govt. propped up those successful individual workers they deemed exceptional (in some way), as a means to declare the success of socialism. It seems as if champagne represented a similar trophy. A misleading trophy, nonetheless, as you mentioned that the aftermath of this short era of prosperity brought even more famine, and terror from Josef Stalin.

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    1. Thanks, Kyle for making this connection, and thanks, Alicja for this provocative and interesting post! You’ve got some great comments here, especially on the implications of mass marketing a beverage that could not have been more “bourgeois” or “decadent”!
      I think we want to be careful, though about turning correlation into causality — yes, there is an economic downturn at the end of the thirties, but it wasn’t caused by the end of bread rationing or the re-embrace of Soviet champagne. When you look at Soviet economic growth in the 30s, the overall picture is pretty impressive, particularly against the backdrop of global depression.

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      1. Thank you for the comment Dr. Nelson! I agree these weren’t direct causes but I find it’s interesting they’re arguably the ones most focused on or at least visible in history, especially with how important food items such as bread are.
        Also thank you Kyle! I’ll be sure to view your post and check out the similarities!

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  5. Nice Post Alicja,

    I think there is a pretty strong correlation between the growth of this industry, and the horrendous state of western markets at this point in time. There were people in the USSR willing to buy this product, and opportunistic foreign investment may have been what spurred the breakthrough in wine technology.

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  6. Alicja! I think this post was extremely unique in the sense you focused on Soviet champagne and provided us with an insight on the role this played in society. This is seemingly a small part of society but plays such a huge role in regard to the culture. Something I wonder following reading this post is other parts of soviet culture that at this period may have represented wealth such as champagne.

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  7. Hey Alicja. I really enjoyed this blog post this week! I love learning about economic policies and the effects of collectivism is a really interesting topic. I love the idea that the soviets were all against the bourgeoisie but came back to the luxury goods.

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    1. Thanks for the comment Peter! From what I gathered it seemed like they were using this time to indulge in all the goods common place for the bourgeoisie but did not need to fear being labeled as such.

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