Puslapio vaizdai
PDF
„ePub“

and knew at once that they were already reaching their first party of men. He chuckled to himself. The fellow, by the sound of his whisper, had been quite scared. And yet what was there to be scared about at that distance from the boche? "Come on!" he said to them. "Get up! What's the matter with you?"

239

The men climbed stiffly to their feet, and Freen led the way through the wire. Five minutes later he was through it and stood on the parapet. White faces under helmets stared up at him; he saw the gas-masks on their chests and their bayonets pointing sharp out of the trench, and it struck him as extraordinary that men should be watching, alert and fully armed, in a place which seemed to him now so absolutely secure. He stooped forward and, putting one hand on the shoulder of the sentry below, jumped down on to the fire-step beside him. Bareheaded, stripped of everything but his revolver, he felt happy, careless, secure. Life pulsed in a warm flood through his body and limbs. He stretched himself and breathed in the familiar earthy smell of the trench. The night air was cool and fresh on his face, and it seemed to him at that moment that he was at

the very summit of health and manhood. He waited till the last man had jumped down into the trench and then turned with Sims toward company headquarters. "What we want now, Sims," he said, "is a drink." When they had scrambled down into the snug, good-smelling dugout, Freen took a deep breath. "Well," he said to the sergeant, "that's done!" and he groped along the dim tunnel to the officers' mess.

Dixon was sitting at the table waiting for the end of the war. He looked up as Freen entered. "Well, thank God for that!" he said in his quiet, tired voice. "I was beginning to wonder if I ought to expect you."

"Why not?"

"Why not? Well, we heard you having high jinks out there. When the sentry heard those bombs, he came down and mentioned it to me, and I got up in time for the machinegun display. I've been hanging about up there for an hour. I gave you an hour and a half. After that I began to think you'd stopped a packet."

"What I want," said Freen, as if Dixon had asked him, "is a drink; two drinks," he added as he stepped out of the officers' mess and shouted into the dark: "Sims!"

F

PROHIBITION IN EUROPE

Where Governments Are Going into the Liquor Business

H. V. KALTENBORN

UTURE historians scanning world events may point to 1926 as the year marking the first decided recession in the prohibition wave which rose with the World War.

In most places where the voter spoke his preference he favored the removal of existing restrictions. In Russia, where the voter has little to say, and few opportunities to say that little, the Soviet government abandoned its futile attempt to enforce a prohibition régime upon the hard-drinking Russian peasant. By popular referendum Norway removed the restriction which limited the alcoholic content of beverages to 21 per cent. France restored a weakened type of absinthe. Ontario substituted state-regulated sale for prohibition, Nova Scotia's legislature voted for a referendum, and New Brunswick has come out for the control system. Prohibition will be one of the major issues of our 1928 campaign. That much is clear as the result of the various state elections in 1926. The advocates of modification made such progress in persuasion last November that they are consolidating their gains and preparing for another advance. Five important States, representing one fifth of our total population, voted a vigorous protest against the Volstead Act.

Some students of the temperance movement declare that in prohibition, as in prosperity, there are regular cycles which can be predicted on the basis of experience. They see in the events of the past two years every evidence that the strong drift toward prohibition which began with the war has come to an end. In their view the upward curve of the prohibition line reached its height in 1925 and the downward trend is unmistakable.

Almost everywhere governments are going into the liquor business. Prohibition may be on the decline, but government control is on the increase. For while prohibition has not prohibited, government regulation has actually regulated. In place of the privately owned saloon on the one hand and ineffective prohibition on the other, there is developing a middle way. Admitting that uncontrolled drinking is a curse and that prohibition is impossible, European governments surround drinking with restrictions that reduce or eliminate its evils. High taxation, local option, eliminating the profit motive, outlawing saloons, reducing the quantity allowed, lowering the alcoholic content, or complete government control are all used in the battle against alcoholism.

"The power to tax is the power to destroy." In both England and Denmark there is a determination to make the tax on alcoholic beverages high enough to check excessive consumption. The desire for revenue and the wish to promote temperance are both satisfied by imposing extremely heavy taxes on beverages with a high alcohol content. Germany has even gone so far as to increase her beer tax while reducing the levies on most luxuries.

Yet no country has been completely successful in finding the ideal mean between prohibition and the saloon. England's high taxation has not eliminated some of the worst features of the public house. Sweden represents the best example of complete government control, yet there is unceasing agitation for change. Neither the prohibitionists nor the antis are willing to accept things as they are. Dissatisfied with every form of prohibition, Norway has introduced certain features of the Swedish sys

tem.

There are special circumstances which make the experience of three countries, Russia, Finland, and Sweden, of particular interest to the United States. Russia's size and its large peasant population suggest some relation to conditions here. Russia tried a prohibition régime and abandoned it. Finland, like the United States, is in the throes of the prohibition experiment. Because Finland is surrounded by "wet" areas, enforcement has thus far proved impossible, yet no political party has dared to urge a change in the law. Sweden's experience with liquor control is particularly valuable because it covers a sixty-year period

[merged small][ocr errors]

The same Russian peasant who defeated communism defeated prohibition. Against his stubbornness the autocrats of Moscow could not prevail.

For centuries alcohol has been a curse in Russia. Vodka drinking is almost universal among adult Russian males. Russian women drink very little. The drunken muzhik is the comic character of the Russian stage. The emphasis on drink in Russian plays and novels is an accurate reflection of Russian life. The ravages of alcohol have been greater in Russia than elsewhere. Not that Russians drink more than Frenchmen, but what they drink is more potent and more harmful.

Here was a challenge to the theorists of the October Revolution. They were remaking the world, and drinking is "an unproductive bourgeois custom" to which communism was always opposed. "Drink is a weapon used by capitalists to enslave the proletariat." Like religion, alcohol, in the Communist lexicon, is "opium for the people." Away with it! And so with the revolution came prohibition.

A government which wipes out private property, which eliminates religion, which turns the world upside down in pursuit of a theory, does not fear to cope with an ingrained social habit. Russians drink too much; ergo they must stop drinking.

But in this, as in so much else, the Russian peasant refuses to respond to Communist commands. In the remote districts he has long been in

the habit of making his own vodka. There he simply continued the wasteful process of distilling grain into alcohol in the home-made stills familiar to many Russian generations. In the villages peasants and small traders went into the business of illicit distilling as soon as the country stores ceased to supply the demand because of the watchfulness of the Soviet authorities.

The Soviet government did not wink at the violation of the prohibition law. It placed all its enormous power in the service of law enforcement. The men in Moscow believed that if they permitted their authority to be defied it would undermine the Communist régime. Grain was desperately needed. The famine year had shown what a single crop failure could do. The wheat required by the peasant to distil a pint of vodka would keep that peasant's family supplied with bread for a day.

The peasant was not delivering his grain to the government. Moscow suspected that one reason was the peasant's desire to keep himself supplied with grain-distilled vodka through the long winter. It was decided to teach him the uselessness of this procedure by confiscating every still in the land. The entire moral and material force of the Communist government was concentrated on the effort to make prohibition effective.

Beginning in 1922 the Russian courts and jails were clogged with prohibition cases. There were only 94,000 in that year, but by 1923 the number increased to 191,000. In 1924 the government authorities dealt with 275,000 separate cases in which the prohibition law was violated.

There was a special effort to seize the illicit stills which supplied whole villages with their habitual quota of Russia's national drink. In 1922 22,000 such stills were confiscated; in 1923 the authorities seized 52,000; and in 1924, the last year in which there was a persistent effort to enforce the law, 73,000 stills fell into the hands of the government's representatives.

The dominant note in the Soviet government is opportunism. Those who compose the inner councils were theorists once, but they are practical politicians now. Because they advocated theories which clash with practical achievement, Trotsky, Zinoviev, and Kamenev were pushed aside last year by the more sturdy realists like Stalin, who are willing to compromise with facts.

By the summer of 1925 it was clear that prohibition could not even be imperfectly enforced except at an enormous cost. Everything else was being sacrificed to produce revenue. The huge bureaucratic apparatus required under a system of state capitalism consumed enormous sums. Instead of bringing in revenue, the manufacture of alcohol was wasting grain, and making Moscow unpopular with the peasants whose support is essential if the Red government is to endure.

There was a difference of opinion in the inner councils of the Kremlin as to what should be done. The prestige of the government was involved. To abandon prohibition was to confess failure. To retain it without enforcement would be worse. It was decided to abandon prohibition and substitute government control. The manufacture and sale of

intoxicants was legalized as a government monopoly, and of the many state enterprises this one soon became the most profitable.

Comrade Semashko, Russia's commissar of health, who was in the thick of the fight on the side of prohibition, confessed failure with a note of sadness. "We abandoned prohibition," he said to the writer, "not because we do not believe in it, but because we found enforcement impossible.

"It was better to create a system of legal control than to permit the conditions developed by prohibition to continue. Now we have at least some measure of supervision. Vodka may not be sold to children. No store may sell more than one bottle at a time to any one person. Whenever we are assured that the majority of the population in any district objects to the sale of vodka, we do not permit it to be sold. Already we have dry districts around certain factories and in large areas near Archangel and in the Crimea. I have myself forbidden the sale of vodka in our southern health resorts.

"We are now seeking to do through education by tracts, lectures, films, and posters what we failed to do by law. Our situation is different from yours. You are dealing with highly educated people who can be made to understand that drink is an evil. Ours is a people in a low state of cultivation. Drinking has been universal in Russia for generations, but our intensive educational campaign in schools, clubs, youth organizations, and moving-picture houses is teaching our people the dangers of alcohol. We may come back to prohibition, but it will take time."

There is no agreement among Russians or among foreign observers in Russia as to whether conditions are better or worse since prohibition was abandoned. The majority says there is more drinking now than when the sale of vodka was forbidden. Commissar Semashko believes that city conditions are worse and country conditions better since prohibition was abandoned.

Critics of the Moscow government declare that a few years of persistent effort might have won the Russian peasant away from his vodka but that the government's desire for revenue and for peasant popularity led it to abandon the only Communist legislation that reflected credit on the Red régime in capitalist circles.

Russia likely needs prohibition more than any other country. Of all widely known intoxicants, vodka is the strongest and the one that gives least pleasure to the sense of taste. The art of drinking vodka is to gulp it down. It is supposed to be kept away from the sensitive nerves of tongue or palate. The Russian drinks vodka to get drunk, and the streets of every city and village testify to his success. Drunkards abound in Moscow at all hours of the day and night. They are so common as to be disregarded by the passing throng. Sometimes it is a mere boy who has reached that condition of utter helplessness induced by this particular drink. Conditions in Russia under prohibition undoubtedly were bad. It seems difficult to believe that they could have been worse than they are to-day.

Already the government has had to increase the alcoholic strength of

« AnkstesnisTęsti »