This is a study of the social, economic, and political role of Vodka in nineteenth-century Russia. Since the `Green Serpent' first appeared in sixteenth-century Muscovy, it has played a vital part in Russian life. Vodka became an essential part of Russian working-class celebrations: personal, religious, and commercial. Trade in Vodka redistributed wealth upwards through Russian society over several centuries. Indeed, Russia's status as a great power was underpinned by it: by the
nineteenth century, it generated one-third of government revenue - enough to cover most of the costs of the vast army. The dependence on Vodka of both people and state has endured into the Gorbachev era. But despite Vodka's key role in Russian history, and the complex network of corruption associated
with it, the subject has been ignored by most historians until now.
This study concentrates on an important transitional era in the history of Vodka: the early nineteenth century. During this period, Vodka taxes played the role that salt taxes had played in the ancien régime in France. The abolition of the tax farm in 1863 should be seen as one of the most important of the `Great Reforms' of the 1860s, an era which, in many ways, parallels the glasnost of the 1980s.