Ivan Bratt. The man who saved Sweden from prohibition; Addiction; (1998) 93(1); Alkohol


Ivan Bratt

The man who saved Sweden from prohibition




Svante Nycander

Dagens Nyheter

105 15 Stockholm

Tel 46 (0)8 738 10 00

Fax and tel (private) 46 (0)8 592 505 38






For forty years, until 1955, spirits were rationed in Sweden under a system of indvidual control. Local ”System companies” had a monopoly on the retail trade in spirits and wine. Private profits on alcohol were eliminated also in the restaurants and the wholesale trade. The legislation was based on the proposals put forward by the physician Ivan Bratt (1878-1956), who presented his ideas in 1909 as an alternative to prohibition. Bratt had the support of leading personalities in Swedish medicine, newspapers and politics, and he also enlisted the support of some of the leaders of the powerful temperance movement. In 1922, Swedes voted against  prohibition in a referendum by 51 per cent to 49. The Bratt system substantially reduced alcohol abuse. When it was abolished, drunkenness in the streets doubled. By 1960, when high taxes had replaced rationing as the policy for controling the consumption of alcohol, delirium tremens had increased since the Bratt period from 160 cases a year to 700.






     Where it started - the strike and the near-victory for prohibition


In July, 1909 the Swedish trade unions Confederation proclaimed a general strike. It was the most serious industrial conflict in the history of Sweden. With the consent of the trade unions the Government prohibited sales of  alcohol for five weeks during the strike, with an immediate, obvious and beneficial effect. Workers´ demonstrations were dignified, impressive and peaceful. Prohibition seemed to be an excellent idea. (Johansson, H., 1947.)

The drinking problem was in the forefront. The temperance movement had become a powerful political and cultural force, a forerunner of  the trade unions and a school for liberal and social democratic politicians. Since 1896 Prohibition Congresses were held regularly. Forty-five per cent of the members of the popularly elected lower house of  Parliament in 1908 were teetotallers. In 1911 the figure was sixty-three per cent. During the strike in 1909 the temperance movement organized an unofficial referendum, a petition in favour of the prohibition of all alcoholic beverages, stronger than light beer. Fifty-six percent of all adult men and women in Sweden signed the petition. (Johansson, L.,1995; Bruun and Frånberg,1985.)   

The great obstacle to prohibition was the upper house of Parliament, which was indirectly elected, plutocratic and conservative. The strategy of  the temperance movement was to establish a local popular veto against the sale of alcohol: a referendum at the municipal level. Prohibition would thus sweep the country through grassroots initiatives. The local veto was also supported by many people who did not strongly believe in prohibition, because it would undermine the plutocratic electoral system of local government. But the upper house could not be moved. (Nycander, 1967.)

In November, 1909 Dr Ivan Bratt wrote a series of articles in Dagens Nyheter,  a liberal Stockholm daily, in which he put forward several proposals as an alternative to prohibition. He wanted strict control of all sales of alcohol, effective local monopolies, the elimination of private and municipal economic interests in alcohol, including interests in the restaurants, and an elaborate system of treatment for alcoholics. Alcohol consumers should be subjected to individual control. (Bratt, 1909.)

It was a challenge to the temperance movement. Bratt´s proposals were based on fresh, unconventionel ideas about alcoholism and the roots of alcohol-related problems.


Ivan Bratt´s early life and career


 Ivan Bratt was born in 1878 in Jönköping, a medium-sized town near Lake  Vättern, as the second of five sons of a judge in a court of appeal, who belonged to a well-known and well-connected family. He demonstrated self-assurance and will-power from an early age. He defied his family and the religiously minded Jönköping when he refused, as an un-believer, to go to his first communion, and for a time he became a vegetarian, influenced by Tolstoy. He tried to interest his schoolmates in the peace movement. He wrote articles for the local newspaper.

 In 1896 Bratt left Jönköping for Uppsala university, and in 1903 he became a physician at the age of twenty-five. As a student he belonged to Verdandi, a leading left-wing association founded in the 1880s, and for a couple of years he edited its publication series. He wrote medical articles in Dagens Nyheter as early as 1900. Brilliant men and women became his friends: Knut Wicksell, Hjalmar Branting, Karl Staaff,  Emilia Bromée, Otto von Zweigbergk, Hjalmar Öhrvall, Ellen Key, who all represented the ideals of modernity and democracy. Later he had the support and friendship of  K A Wallenberg and Marcus Wallenberg, bankers and industrialists. He belonged to the small class of people in Sweden who had an academic education and natural, informal access to the social and political elite. (Westling, 1996.)

Few public figures in Sweden have had such versatile talents as Ivan Bratt. He wrote extremely well, in a direct and lively manner, and was a masterly speaker. Public debates between Bratt and his opponents attracted vast audiences and were considered great and memorable events. He was a good organizer and businessman. In private he was charming, convincing and witty. People who were basically his opponents, like some of the leaders of the temperance movement, could not help admiring him and becoming, to some degree, his political allies.

The fact that he represented the medical profession was crucial. He first presented his programme for alcohol reform at a meeting of the Swedish Society of Medicine in 1908. He was not a keynote speaker and was only supposed to have the floor for ten minutes, but in the discussion his ideas became the focus of everyone´s attention. The Society set up a committee with Bratt as a member. The report of  this committee,  Alkoholen och samhället  (Alcohol and Society) 1912, written mainly by Bratt, is the basic document of  alcohol policies in Sweden until 1955. Bratt enlisted leading personalities in Swedish medicine as his supporters. (Westling, 1996; Johansson, L., 1995.)


Ideas and policies


As a physician Ivan Bratt had some experience of patients with drinking problems. He perceived alcoholism primarily as deviant behaviour, an effect of  excessive drinking habits supported by traditions and social norms. He had found that alcoholics in hospitals, where no drinks were available, behaved quite normally and did not long for alcohol. His  prescription to an alcoholic who hade broken a rib was to abstain from drinking for three weeks ”to protect his heart”. The man was sober for three weeks, after which he relapsed into his ”pathological” dependence of alcohol. (Alkoholen och samhället, 1912.) Bratt´s view was that above all an alcoholic needs, not ”treatment”, but a strong motive to give up drinking. Alcohol abuse may cause many illnesses, but it is in itself a social problem, not a medical one. (Bratt, 1909.)

Ivan Bratt saw that the existing legislation gave broad powers, neglected by the local authorities, to regulate the sale of alcohol in order to reduce the damage caused by heavy drinking. In the 1860s philanthropists in Gothenburg had founded a company  to operate the retail trade in, and the serving of,  brännvin (vodka, the drink regarded as the essential problem) ”in the interest of morality” as a local monopoly, in compliance with a law from 1855. The Gothenburg system (”Göteborgssystemet”) became a model, and it was made compulsory all over Sweden in 1905. The ”System companies” were licenced by the municipalities, which took all the profits. Their monopoly was not  complete, as they transferred some of their licences to private liquor shops and restaurants, that served the more affluent customers. This model, too, ensured the municipalities a substantial revenue. The main effect of the monopolies was to make alcohol more expensive. (Bratt, 1911; Nycander, 1967.)   

Some of the System shops had lists of people who were not allowed to buy, because of frequent offences such as public drunkennes. This form of control was generally considered inefficient. Ivan Bratt  turned the idea upside down. Every liquor shop should have a list of  customers who were entitled to buy. Every person who wanted to buy spirits or wine  would thus need a licence from the System company. He must undertake not to sell the goods to any other person. This was the basis of the famous motbok, the customer´s ration book in which all purchases were registered. Bratt compared buying alcohol to buying dynamite: something that only adult, responsible people should be allowed to do. (Bratt, 1909; Bratt, 1929.)

Ivan Bratt´s success as a reformer was impressive. He founded AB Stockholmssystemet (”the Stockholm System Company Ltd”), and with the support of the city council he introduced  individual control of  consumers in the liquor shops in Stockholm in February, 1914. He was a member of a government commission on alcohol between 1911 and 1919 and the architect of almost completely new legislation. With the company in Stockholm and its subsidiary, the Vin & Spritcentralen, as a platform he gradually built a national monopoly in the wholesale trade and the production and imports of  spirits and wine,  in agreement with the government but without formal authorization. In 1922 an Act of Parliament confirmed  the monopoly that Bratt had already achieved by skilled business diplomacy. The monopoly was in the hands of the Vin- & Spritcentralen as a state-owned company. (Bruun and Frånberg, 1985; Marcus, 1938.)

Bratt was also a politician. In 1908 he was elected a city councillor in Stockholm as a Liberal, to the surprise of some who thought he was a Social Democrat. He was elected to a committee concerned with poverty. He was active in local politics until 1919, and a few years later he was for a short time a Member of Parliament. During his years as a politician the Liberal party reached the peak of its power both in terns of votes and political influence. (Westling, 1996.)

From 1923 to 1928 Bratt was the Managing Director of the Vin & Spritcentralen. He then left Sweden to become the head of  SKF´s (Svenska kullagerfabriken) subsidiary in France. He retired in 1942, returned to Sweden in 1945 and died in 1956. (Westling, 1996.)



The system of individual control


 By the early 1920s ”the Bratt system” had been established all over Sweden. It was administered at the central level by a national board of indirect taxation (kontrollstyrelsen), which was responsible for a relatively uniform application of the individual control of consumers. Local System companies, with the Vin & Spritcentralen as their only supplier, were in charge of all direct trade with customers and restaurants. Beer was not included in the system; only relatively light beer was allowed. (Bruun and Frånberg, 1985.)

The Government Commission concluded its work in 1919. In its final report it argued strongly in favour of prohibition (Nykterhetskommittén IX, 1920), and a national referendum was held at last in 1922. At that time prohibition seemed fairly successful in the United States. Ivan Bratt was a leading opponent in the campaign (Westling, 1996), and the people decided against prohibition, by a vote of 51 percent to 49. The referendum turnout was 55 per cent. In Stockholm 86 percent voted against prohibition. (Johansson, L., 1995.) The Bratt system saved Sweden from an experiment that was doomed to failure, as in Finland and Norway.

The seriousness of the conflict became evident a few months after the referendum, when the Liberal party split into two because of conflicting views about prohibition. The temperance movement remained prohibitionist until the 1940s and was never reconciled to the Bratt system. It was the driving force behind a decision in 1954 to abolish basic elements of the system. (Nycander, 1967.)

The details of the Bratt system were changed several times, and the System companies had wide discretionary powers. Rations were or could be influenced by income, unpaid taxes, age, sex, residence, criminal record and reports about alcohol abuse. Extra rations could be granted for special occasions like birthday parties and weddings. Consumers could appeal to the kontrollstyrelsen against decisions by the System company. The principle was that no-one should be allowed to buy more than he ”needed”.

Gradually, control became more uniform and less ”individual”. The basic rules during most of the Bratt period were rather simple. The maximum ration was four litres a month until 1942, then three litres. Only one person in each household was allowed to have a ration book. Married women were excluded; a woman lost her book  if she married, even if her husband did not have one. Unmarried men and women could get a ration book from the age of 25, a married man from the age of 21. Wine  was included in the system but was not rationed for motbok-holders in general.

About 25 per cent of  all male motbok-holders over 25 were submitted to special restrictions of some kind. In most cases their rations were reduced because of  reported abuse.          


Relationship with the temperance movement


Bratt´s ideas were condemned by the temperance movement (Johansson, H., 1947) and met with strong disapproval among innkeepers, wine traders, brewers and of course many consumers. It was said later that the system he created was maintained by the mutual antagonism between prohibitionists and believers in an easy-going, deregulated alcohol policy. Those who were actively in favour of the Bratt system were always a tiny group, consisting largely of  people who worked in the institutions of the system, while there was widespread passive acceptance in the public at large. In his old age Bratt testified to the importance of the reliable, persistent support he had had from Dagens Nyheter, whose editor from 1898 to 1921, Otto von Zweigbergk, had been a journalist in Jönköping and whom he had known since he was a teenager. Of the other newspapers in Stockholm three were friendly, among them Socialdemokraten, and three critical. (Bruun and Frånberg, 1985.)

The teetotallers were convinced that even small doses of alcohol were harmful. They tended to regard alcohol as a poison and temperance as based on strong medical arguments. Ivan Bratt read the statistics of British insurance companies and stated in 1904: ”Logically speaking, there is nothing in these fugures to contradict the assumption that the lives of consumers of  very small doses of alcohol are longer than those of  people who totally refrain from alcohol.” (Westling, 1996.) He always accepted the use of alcohol and directed his efforts at  reducing its abuse; he was less interested in the amount consumed than in the way it was consumed. Statistics about total consumtion in a population seemed to him almost irrelevant. Thus he did not argue for high taxes on alcohol. (Alkoholen och samhället, 1912; Bratt, 1929.)

He saw the fundamental weakness of  prohibition. As a temporary measure it  might work. But alcohol is easy to produce, to store and to distribute, and an illegal trade would become extremely profitable and be impossible to stop, as even people with a moderate interest in alcohol would yield to the temptation when offered illegal drinks. The lust for money, rather than lust for alcohol, would undermine prohibition, he pointed out in Alkoholen och samhället.

Bratt was intuitively aware of the economic dimensions of the alcohol problem. The temperance movement had a puritan and moralistic approach and did not want to compensate distillers, innkeepers and owners of wine shops who would be economically hurt by a local veto and prohibition. Ivan Bratt saw no reason to antagonize people whose trade was, in the prevailing situation, as honourable as any other, and he early and clearly stated that those whose business would be damaged by his reforms should be paid generously. Private licence-holders in Stockholm should be offered positions with a decent salary in the System company. ”From the point of view of temperance, nothing could be more insane  than the open warfare on private economic interests which is typical of American prohibitionist policies and which is also one of the weak points in all local veto policy.” The private interests should be ”peeled off”, cautiosly and slowly. Otherwise you will either lose the battle, or if you win the battle you will lose the fruits of victory. (Bratt, 1911.)

The temperance movement saw taxes on alcohol as immoral and unjust (Johansson, H., 1947.) and had no clear idea of what to do with the revenue coming from the alcohol trade, until prohibition could be enforced. The movement was opposed to the System companies, which gave the municipalities considerable revenues.  The leaders of the movement feared a state monopoly, which they thought would make politicians less interested in prohibition. One of their demands was that the public sector should be made independent of revenues from alcohol. The money should be ”funded”, made untouchable. (Nycander, 1967.)

Ivan Bratt agreed that both private and municipal economic interests in alcohol should be eliminated. All profits should be collected by the state. (Bratt, 1911.) This meant that the System companies would have to withdraw licences that had been granted private owners of liquor shops and that prices in restaurants would have to be regulated. As Bratt understood, the ease with which money can be earned on alcohol made restaurants, hotels and public entertainment sectors dependent on alcohol and thus created a large, formidable pressure group against alcohol restrictions. Alcohol should not subsidize food and entertainment in the restaurants, he maintained. People with an economic incentive to promote the consumption of alcohol could not be relied upon to respect regulations about business hours, age restrictions etc. Gradually, the process of eliminating private profits should go up along the chain of distribution until the wholesale trade, imports and production had been brought under the monopoly of a state-owned company. (Bratt, 1911; Alkoholen och samhället, 1912.)

In Bratt´s view, restaurants were an important factor in the maintenance of excessive drinking habits. He advocated, and eventually enforced, harsh restrictions, the most important of which was that spirits could only be served together with food. ”Spirits  without food should be regarded as a real and serious poison”, he wrote. (Bratt, 1909; Bratt, 1911.)

Bratt´s opponents said that the bureaucracy that was needed in his system would become extremely expensive. He dismissed the argument as demagogic and hypocritical, as the control measures corresponded to only a small fraction of the public revenues from alcohol. The costs were insignificant compared to the dimensions of the alcohol problem.

The idea of rationing spirits for all consumers was not a part of Bratt´s original design. It was added to the programme in the discussions on the Government Commission on alcohol, where the teetotallers were in a majority. When the motbok  was introduced in Stockholm early in 1914 it was used as a ration card allowing maximum purchases of twelve litres of spirits in three months (later 16 litres). Many customers were only allowed smaller rations for various reasons. Wine and beer were not rationed. Although the sobering effect of the reform was immediate and strong in Stockholm, obviously such a system could not be applied in one city only. It must be a matter of national policy. Individual control had to be enforced everywhere. (Bruun and Frånberg, 1985.)

The temperance leaders considered that some of Bratt´s reforms would be useful as a first step to prohibition. The local veto would be helped by a strict control on sales nationwide and an effective elimination of private profits, and Bratt himself  pointed out at an early stage how much the two programmes had in common; anyhow, a decision on prohibition would have to wait (Bratt, 1911). He offered an alliance, and both in local politics in Stockholm and in the Government Commission he managed to build a coalition in favour of a major reform. A decision in Parliament was delayed by the conflicting views of the two houses on the local veto, but in 1917 new legislation in accordance with Bratt´s programme was adopted (without the local veto). The introduction of the new system of control was helped by the necessity to ration alcohol because of shortages caused by the war. (Johansson, L., 1995; Bruun and Frånberg, 1985.)

At the local level, the temperance movement was often an important partner in the day-to-day application of individual control, sometimes with a severity far from Bratt´s intentions. In the town of Umeå the city council and the System company tried to use the ration book as an instrument for the gradual introduction of prohibition: the age limit for the book was raised by one year every year. (Bruun and Frånberg, 1985.)


Care, treatment and detention


The elimination of private profits on alcohol and the individual control of customers were two pillars of the Bratt reform. A third was the system of treatment and care for alcoholics, where Ivan Bratt´s view of the nature of the alcohol problem was expressed the most clearly. Contrary to medical authorities in the tradition of  Magnus Huss (Alcoholismus chronicus,1851) he did not regard alcoholism as a disease. That alcoholism is first and foremost a social, not a medical, problem was a basic idea of the report Alkoholen och samhället submitted by the committee of the Swedish Society of Medicine. It is remarkable how much and well this group of physicians wrote about political, social and economic matters.

A law on the compulsory detention of alcoholics was under way when Bratt first presented his ideas. The number of chronic alcoholics was estimated to be    sixty thousand. To build institutions for so many people was unrealistic, and Bratt pointed out that doctors had little treatment to offer. The weakness of the detention programme, as proposed, was that it afforded nothing between complete freedom and confinement to an institution. Institutional treatment was necessary, Bratt argued, but this should be only the last link in a chain of measures designed to prevent alcohol problems, to help and rehabilitate alcoholics and to assist their families. (Bratt, 1909.) A municipal board with a staff of social workers should be obliged to act in all situations where alcohol abuse presented a problem. The emphasis should be on early prevention, if necessary in the form of probation. Individual control was, again, a guiding principle. The alcoholic´s  knowledge that continued abuse could lead to him being locked up in an institution would have a sobering influence. The municipal board should be in close contact with the System company. The abuser would hopefully become more careful and moderate because of the risk of having his ration cut down or withdrawn. (Alkoholen och samhället, 1912.)

As a member of the Government Commission Bratt was in a position to comment on the official report on detention and have the proposal changed in accordance with his own ideas. A law was adopted in 1912, and its principles  remained in operation until the 1980s.

Bratt remained faithful to his early beliefs. Twenty-five years after he had left the Swedish scene he published a book, Alkoholismen - en sjukdom? (Alcoholism - a Disease?) 1953, in which he argued his case with skill and energy. The book was not well received. In the 1950s the right of the alcoholic to be considered as the victim of a disease was becoming a humanitarian dogma. (Westling, 1996.)


Success and ultimate failure of the Bratt system


Three government commissions tried, in 1919, 1934 and 1952, respectively, to evaluate the effects of the Bratt system on alcohol consumption, alcohol abuse, health, criminal violence etc. The leaders of the temperance movement were involved on all three occasions and strongly influenced the interpretation of the facts. At an early stage they put forward the theory that the ration book had a damaging psychological effect on consumers. In their view, four litres a month (after the early 1940s three litres) had come to be regarded as a legitimate and harmless consumption. The average consumer was thought to buy more than he would otherwise have done merely in order to get his full ration. Everyone  admitted that the system initially reduced severe forms of abuse, but this was thought to be have been cancelled out by the tendency of the system to make people more interested in alcohol; in the view of the temperance movement - though not in that of all members - the Bratt reforms did more harm than good. (Nykterhetskommittén IX, 1920.)

The commission that reported in 1934 was, however, impressed by the fact that the alcohol problem had been substantially reduced. For centuries Swedes had not been as sober as around 1930. Compared with 1913, per capita consumtion of spirits had dropped by more than thirty per cent. The number of people arrested in the cities  for being drunk in public has in Sweden often served as a measure of  the level of abuse. The reduction per capita was almost seventy per cent. In Stockholm, consumption had fallen by more than forty percent, and the number of cases of violent crime by sixty percent. Delirium tremens had become rare. (SOU 1934:39; Bratt, 1929.)

What would have happened without the Bratt reforms? The temperance movement looked at some other countries and concluded that there was a long-term downward trend in alcohol consumption and that the situation in Sweden would have improved in any case. In Denmark and Great Britain consumption had dropped more than in Sweden. High alcohol prices seemed to be a more efficient instrument than rationing. (SOU 1934:39.) As prohibition was not feasible, the leaders of the temperance movement became more interested in high taxes as a means of reducing consumption. Tax increases, however, did not appeal to the egalitarian sentiment of the rank and file of the temperance organizations and were in general quite unpopular. Denmark had raised the prices of spirits in 1917 more then tenfold as a crisis measure due to an acute shortage of grain and potatoes. (Bruun and Frånberg, 1985.) To do a similar thing in a normal situation was a different matter.

People in general did not need statistics to see how greatly the situation had improved. Ivan Bratt received heart-warming letters from women in the working class whose lives had become brighter. (Westling, 1996.) An inquiry among more than two thousand municipal boards all over the country indicated a broad awareness of the importance of the Bratt system. (SOU 1934:39.) The system was not popular, but it was tolerated. Ivan Bratt often said that the real difficulties would come when most people had no memories of the situation prior to 1914.


The weaknesses of the Bratt system


Ivan Bratt said that the restrictions were ”onetenth legislation, ninetenths application” (Nykterhetskommittén IX, 1920). ”Individual control” implied discretionary powers. The concept tended to hide what was for most customers a rather inflexible rationing of spirits and for others a grim discrimination and sometimes arbitrariness. The personal integrity of consumers was not well protected. The System companies had files where all sorts of negative information about people were kept as a basis for future decisions. (Bruun and Frånberg, 1985.)

When alcohol was rationed in the liquor shops, there was a tendency for people to turn to restaurants. The Bratt system did not allow the owners of restaurants to make any profits on spirits and wine. The amount of alcohol that could be served to the individual customer was limited, and drinks could be ordered only together with food. The inspection of restaurants was often anonymous, with much talk of  the ”spies” from the System company and the authorities. This made it difficult to run good restaurants. The number of restaurants with a licence to serve alcohol was kept down. (Bruun and Frånberg, 1985.)

People in general saw the Bratt system as identical with the ration book. After World War II, the rationing of alcohol tended to be seen in the same light as the rationing of food, as someting to be tolerated only temporarily. Memories of the situation thirty-five years earlier had faded. People travelled in Europe on holiday, and the Bratt system was difficult to explain to visitors. It was easy to see that Swedish women would not in the long run accept being discrimininated against. The leaders of the temperance movement, still powerful, assured the politicians that the Bratt system could be abolished without much risk. They avoided the sensitive question of a substantial tax increase. (Nycander, 1967.)

Public support for the Bratt system eroded after World War II. Opinion polls in 1942 and 1944 indicated that about twothirds of the population accepted or sympathized with the system. Support for prohibition was still strong at that time, but in 1950 those favouring some kind of ”free buying” outnumbered those in favour of the Bratt system or prohibition.

The ration book was abolished in 1955. With insignificant exceptions everybody above the age of  21 was allowed to buy alcohol without restrictions. All the local System companies were at the same time brought together in the new state-owned ”Systembolaget”, the alcohol retail monopoly.

A wave of alcohol abuse and misery followed.  Substancial tax increases in 1956 och 1958 reduced the total consumption of spirits to the level of 1954, but their effect on abuse and alcoholism was hardly visible. All the statistics and reports indicated a marked deterioration of the alcohol problem after 1955. (SOU 1994:25; Nycander, 1967.)


Recent evaluations


The most comprehensive and balanced evaluation of  the Bratt system was made by a group led by Kettil Bruun in 1985. Leif Lenke concluded that the system had a substantial effect on the level of abuse. He pointed at the immediate decrease in alcohol related damage when the ration book was introduced in 1914-1917 and the immediate increase when the system was abolished in 1955. There is no strong evidence that these dramatic effects were offset by any long-term negative influence of the system on the attitudes to alcohol. The crime rate, in particular the incidence of violence, was lower during the Bratt period than it was before and after; and so was the prison population. (Bruun and Frånberg, 1985.)

Lenke´s most important finding concerns the distribution of alcohol consumption. The Bratt system probably did not greatly affect the drinking habits of the average consumer, but it made alcohol more expensive and less accessible to people with alcohol problems. The prices in the restaurants and the black market were two or three times higher than those in the liquor shops. When total alcohol consumption increased  by 25 per cent in 1955-57, drunkenness in the streets doubled and cases of delirium tremens increased from 160 to 700 a year. During the Bratt period the death rate among abusers was hardly higher than that among other people. Studies carried out in the 1970s show a dramatic increase in the death rate. (Bruun and Frånberg, 1985.)

The latest Government Commission on alcohol estimated that around 1960 alcohol abuse had doubled since 1954. Abuse among young people had increased even more. (SOU 1994:25.)

In the early days of the Bratt system smuggling and illicit production and trade were major problems. In the crisis 1918-19  alcohol rations were cut drastically, but control was inefficient. The legislation was inadequate. During the 1920s strong measures were taken, with the support of public opinion, and the situation improved greatly. In the discussion preceding the decision in 1954 illicit distilling  was not an important argument. However, there always existed a black market for spirits sold by the liquor shops. In the view of the Government Commission that reported in 1952 this was a fatal weakness of the system,. (Bruun and Frånberg, 1985; SOU 1952:53.)

The alcohol policies pursued in Sweden after 1955 have led to the gradual abolition of  the rest of the Bratt system, with the exception so far of the retailing monopoly. Restaurants in Sweden today are no different from those in other countries. Ivan Bratt´s ideas about the character of alcoholism have, by and large, given way to the conventional view of alcohol abuse as a disease. As a member of the European Union Sweden has had to give up its monopoly on imports, exports, production and the wholesale trade in alcohol. The Court of Justice will decide whether the Swedish retailing monopoly is compatible with the Treaty of Rome. Sweden has only been granted temporary exceptions from single market rules for   alcohol and tobacco. The main instrument used to control consumption is the high tax on alcohol, which will probably be undermined by private imports.


Not the hero of a strong tradition


In april, 1940 Ivan Bratt had a cancer of the larynx removed,  after which he could only whisper. A few weeks after the operation he and his third wife Eva, who was thirty years younger than himself, were on their way to Paris by car. Near Versailles they met soldiers who told them to leave the road because of an expected bomb attack. They left the car and sat down by a tree. A bomb killed Eva and wounded Ivan in the head.

Bratt owned a beautiful farm in the village Houjarray not far from Versailles. Late in 1944 he sold the property to Jean Monnet, who had been his friend since his days in the wine and spirits trade. Monnet lived in Houjarray from 1945 until his death in 1979. A sign-post near the house states: ”Ici a eté concu en 1950 le projet de Communauté Europienne”(Here, in 1950,  the European Community project was conceived).  Bratt and Monnet had agreed on a price in dollars, but the actual transaction was done in French francs - just before a radical devaluation of the franc. Monnet did not compensate his friend. (Westling, 1996.)

Ivan Bratt fascinated his contemporaries, but he was not the hero of any popular movement or the standard bearer of a strong tradition. His fame did not last; he was more or less forgotten even while his reforms were still in operation. The first biography will only be published in 1997. The importance of what he did in a rather short period - from 1908 to 1922 - has been fully recognized only rather recently, when the controversies he caused have faded.




Bratt, I., Kan nykterhetsfrågan lösas utan totalförbud?  (Can the Alcohol Problem be Solved without Prohibition?) Bonniers. Stockholm 1909.

Bratt, I., Nykterhetspolitiska utvecklingslinjer. (Guidelines for Temperance Policies.) Bonniers. Stockholm 1911.

Bratt, I., Om sprit, nykterhet och lagstiftning. (On Alcohol, Temperance and Legislation.) Almanack för alla, 1929.

Bratt, I., Alkoholism - en sjukdom? (Alcoholism - a Disease?) Bonniers. Stockholm 1953.

Bruun, K., and Frånberg, P., (editors), Den Svenska supen. En historia om brännvin, Bratt och byråkrati. (The Swedish Snaps. A History of Liquor, Bratt and Bureaucracy.) Prisma. Stockholm 1985.

Johansson, H., Den svenska godtemplarrörelsen och samhället. (The Swedish Good Templar Movement and Society.)  Oskar Eklunds bokförlag. Stockholm 1947.

Johansson, L., Systemet lagom. (Middle-of-the-Road-System.) Lund University Press. Malmö 1995.

Marcus, M., Aktiebolaget Stockholmssystemet 1913-1938. (The Stockholm System Company Ltd 1913-1938.) Stockholm 1938.

Nycander, S., Svenskarna och spriten. (The Swedes and Alcohol.)  Prisma. Stockholm 1967. (Updated edition, Sober. Stockholm 1996.)

Westling, H., Ivan Bratt. Atlantis. Stockholm. (To be published 1997).

Alkoholen och samhället. Svenska Läkaresällskapets kommitterade. (Alcohol and Society. Report by the committee of the Swedish Society of Medicine.) Nordiska bokhandeln. Stockholm 1912.

Nykterhetskommittén IX. Betänkande med förslag till lag om alkoholvaror med mera. (Report by the Government Commission on Alcohol Presenting a Proposal of Legislation about Alcohol.) Oskar Eklunds Boktryckeri. Stockholm 1920.

Statens offentliga utredningar (SOU - Swedish Government Official Report Series):

SOU 1934:39, Betänkande med förslag till spritdrycksförordning m m. (Report with draft Alcoholic Beverages Ordinance etc.). Norstedts. Stockholm 1934. 

SOU 1952:53, 1944 års nykterhetskommitté: Principbetänkande (Main report of the 1944 Government Commission on Alcohol.)  Finansdepartementet. Stockholm 1953.

SOU 1994:25, Svensk alkoholpolitik (Swedish Alcohol Policy). Fritzes. Stockholm 1994.