Since the 16th century, vodka has not merely been a source of pleasure and even of spiritual and religious experience, but has also circulated vast quantities of wealth through the long-suffering body of Russian society. But vodka was never just a drink: like all alcoholic drinks, it was also a social, economic, and political 'institution', in the sociologist's sense of the word. Viewed like this, alcohol appears as one of many different means of redistributing wealth, as one more expression of class conflict — that constant petty skirmishing by which the power and privilege of ruling elites are sustained. This book surveys the early history of vodka in Russia, its role in the distribution of wealth, and the overthrow of tax farming in Russia, including the emergence of upper-class opposition to the system, the popular protests of 1859, and the bureaucratic politics that led to the reform of 1863. The book argues that the abolition of tax farming should be treated as one of the more important of Russia's ‘Great Reforms’ of the l860s.
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