BESSOLITSYN A.A. Wine Monopoly Assessed by the Contemporaries of S.Y. Vitte


Alexandr A. Bessolitsyn

Doctor of Sciences (Economics), Professor, Leading Scientist,

Centre of Economic History, Institute of Russian History of the Russian Academy of Sciences,

Dmitriya Ylyanova St, 19, 117292 Moscow, Russian Federation

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Abstract. Introduction. The introduction of monopoly is associated with the minister of finance S.Y. Vitte, who initiated an active reforming activity during the economic modernization of the country. The current article analyzes social and economic consequences of introducing the wine monopoly assessed by the contemporaries of S.Y. Vitte. This was one of the most complicated and controversial reforms in term of acceptance by the society, which raised opposite assessments, including ones with regard to Vitte himself. Notwithstanding the above, it became a part of the “Vitte’s Program” aimed at the creation of the national industry during the country’s economic modernization. In this context the monopoly solved an important problem, in particular, it helped to search and attract funds inside the country in order to solve the set targets, which caused controversial reaction in the society. A number of prominent state and social officials as well as famous economic scientists spoke about its implementation.

Methods and materials. The author analyzed different points of view expressed by such officials as: M.M. Kovalevskiy, I.H. Ozerov, P.P. Migulin, N.A. Velyaminov, N.I. Fridman, M.N. Kulomzin, A.F. Koni, P.L. Bark, V.N. Kokovtsov, P.H. Shvanebach, L.D. Hodskiy and others, who gave their estimation of social and economic consequences of introduction of the wine monopoly, as well as the role of Vitte in its development, implementation and social and economic consequences, in their publications, articles, reminiscences and memoirs. Basic methods of research used in the article are historical and genetic and comparative historical. They allow assessing general and specific issues in the approaches and assessments of the completed reform.

Analysis. Although the necessity of the monopoly introduction was discussed in the Government long before Vitte, his predecessors at the position of the minister of finance have not decided to make this step, as they understood the reaction, which will be caused in the society due to its introduction. Indeed, after the monopoly has been introduced, a number of prominent state and social activists expressed their opinion about the necessity of its introduction, the role of Vitte in its development and implementation as well as about the social and economic consequences of this reform. Among the liberal circles the estimations were mostly of a critical nature. Having admitted that the excise system was not able to eliminate alcoholism and that the organization of alcoholic industry needed serious reforms, liberal mass media of that period did not anchor any hopes on the improvement of the industry with the official trade. However, the analysis of the reform made among its developers as well as certain scientific and social actors was more balanced and objective.

Results. Therefore, the reform of drinks (wine monopoly), which was introduced by Vitte in 1894 and existed almost till the beginning of the First World War was controversially assessed by its contemporaries and, as it was shown during the conducted research, often the reason for this was the attitude to Vitte himself. The critics of Vitte, as a rule, did not take into account that by introducing the monopoly he defended mostly the interests of the state and after his resignation he was no longer personally responsible for its final results. In this regard, the last minister of finance of the Russian Empire, P.L. Bark, who replaced the monopoly during the First World War with the nonalcohol law, in his memoirs highly appraised the role of Vitte in the development and implementation of the reform and considered it quite reasonable in the relevant historical conditions. Most of the contemporaries agreed that the introduction of the monopoly helped to significantly increase the cash flow to the budget, at that, the monopoly failed to solve the second important goal, which is the decrease of alcoholism level among peasants – major part of the empire’s population. The advantage of the reform, which almost nobody challenges, is the significant increase of the quality of consumed product.

Key words: wine monopoly, S.Y. Vitte, budget, income from alcohol, social and economic consequences, struggle with alcoholism.

Citation. Bessolitsyn A.A. Wine Monopoly Assessed by the Contemporaries of S.Y. Vitte. Vestnik Volgogradskogo gosudarstvennogo universiteta. Seriya 4. Istoriya. Regionovedenie. Mezhdunarodnye otnosheniya [Science Journal of Volgograd State University. History. Area Studies. International Relations], 2022, vol. 27, no. 3, pp. 247-259. (in Russian). DOI:

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Wine Monopoly Assessed by the Contemporaries of S.Y. Vitte by Bessolitsyn A.A. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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