Alexander Zinoviev

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Grave of Aleksandr Zinovyev

Alexander Aleksandrovich Zinovyev (Russian: Александр Александрович Зиновьев əlʲɪˈksandr əlʲɪˈksandrəvʲɪʨ zʲɪˈnovʲjɪf [1]) (September 29, 1922 – May 10, 2006) was a well-known Russian logician, sociologist, writer and satirist. Apart from professional work in the field of logic, Zinovyev was renowned for his long novel The Yawning Heights and his follow-up, The Radiant Future, both of which were satirical treatments of Soviet power. Zinoviev coined the term Homo Sovieticus, a satirical reference to the type of man created by Soviet efforts to "engineer human souls." Marxism had held that human nature was fungible, that it was wholly determined by the means of production, so that a new kind of person would emerge in the Soviet state that reflected the values of socialism based on the equality that was supposed to exist in a socialist state. Homo Sovieticus referred to the graft and corruption that the Soviet system had actually engendered.

Once a dissident and an extreme critic of Communism (and successive leaders of the Soviet Union), he later became an apologist for Communism after the fall of the Soviet Union. He also become moderately well-known as an author of various critical writings about both Western and Russian societies.

Scientific work in USSR

Alexander was the sixth child born to Alexander Yakovlevich Zinoviev and Appolinariya Vasilyevna Zinovieva. The family lived in the village of Pakhtino, Chukhloma region, Kostroma Oblast, but a few years after Alexander's birth they moved to Moscow, seeking a better quality of life.

Zinoviev began studying philosophy at the Institute of Philosophy, Literature and History in 1939 but was soon expelled for his critical attitude to Stalin's policy of forced collectivization. He was arrested but managed to escape. Later, he recalled, he was involved in an anti-Stalinist group which plotted to assassinate Stalin. He hid himself in Siberia until 1940, when he joined the Red army. He took part in World War II as a tank driver and a pilot. After the war he began writing fiction that he did not publish, graduating from Moscow State University in 1951 summa cum laude. His thesis on the logical structure of MarxDas Kapital was only published in Russia in 2002. During the next decades he became one of the most important logicians of the USSR.

Alexander Zinovyev published several articles and books on logic (especially polyvalential logic) and methodology of science. He was often invited to international conferences but the authorities never let him attend. As the chairman of Moscow State University Logic Department, Zinovyev earned a reputation as a pro-dissident lecturer since he refused to expel dissident professors. As a protest against Brezhnev’s spreading cult of personality he resigned from editorial board of Voprossy Filosofii (Philosophical Questions), the leading philosophy journal of the time. By the year 1974 he was in almost complete isolation.

In exile

Various fictional, often satirical, stories written about Soviet society were agglomerated into his first major work of fiction, The Yawning Heights. After the release of the book in Switzerland in 1976, Zinoviev was dismissed from his lecturer's job, evicted from the Academy of Sciences, stripped of all awards, even his war-time medals, and finally expelled from Soviet Union after his next novel, The Radiant Future, which criticized Leonid Brezhnev, was published in the West in 1978. He settled in Munich where he lived with his wife Olga and their daughter, until 1999.

The success of The Yawning Heights led to its translation into most major European languages. It was read aloud in Russian via Western radio broadcasts. The Yawning Heights was the first in a series of Zinoviev’s fictional works that have been widely recognized as belonging to the original genre which he called the "sociological novel." The purpose of such novels is to create fictional situations to give reign to a discussion of their sociologically significant aspects. Characters, who vary in their personal qualities and social positions, discuss their life in the society, permitted by the author to voice different opinions on various issues. Zinoviev admits that much misunderstanding of his ideas arises from undue confusion of his point of view with those of his characters.

Among his non-fiction works from that time are Without Illusions (1979), We and the West (1981), Communism as a Reality (1981), and Gorbachevism (1987). The latter was first published in French, 1987 (Lausanne: L'Âge d'homme). Without Illusions is a collection of essays, lectures and broadcasts by Zinoviev in which he explained his way of interpreting Communist society using a scientific approach. Zinoviev believed that the Western democracies had actually underestimated the threat of Communism, especially the peaceful infiltration of Communist characteristics into the Western society. He argued that Communism had not been able to eradicate the social differences between people, but had only changed the forms of inequality. Contrary to some critics of the Soviet system, Zinoviev emphasized that communism was by no means an irrational system, but the byproduct of certain sociological principles, and as such, rational in nature. However, he also stressed that in no way did he support Communism.[2]

Until the era of Perestroika, he was one of the most outspoken critics of the Soviet regime. Unlike Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who sought a kind of revival of pre-1917 Russia, Zinoviev also denounced religion and Russian Nationalism.

Homo Sovieticus

Homo Sovieticus (from New Latin) is a sarcastic and critical reference to a category of people with a specific mindset that were allegedly created by the governments of the Soviet bloc. The term was coined by Zinoviev as the title of his book of the same name. [3]

Marxism had held that there was no essential human nature, but that all culture was a part of the superstructure that was based on the material base, or means of production. This became a kind of dogma in communist societies leading to the idea that the Soviet system would create a new, better kind of person — better because the socialist means of production were considered to be de facto non-exploitative. This would lead to the creation of a "New Soviet man." It was this belief that served as justification for the labor camps, which were designed for "re-education." However, as people realized the cynical nature of the exploitation that took place in the name of "re-engineering human souls," a new term,Homo Sovieticus, was coined. Homo Sovieticus was a term with negative connotations, invented by opponents to describe what they said was the real result of Soviet policies. Instead of the "New Soviet man," the regime created a dysfunctional individual, characterized by:

  • Indifference to the results of his labor (as expressed in the saying "They pretend they are paying us, and we pretend we are working"), and lack of initiative.
  • Indifference to common property and petty theft from the workplace, both for personal use and for profit. A line from a popular song, "Everything belongs to the kolkhoz (from kollectivnaya khoziastvo or collective farm), everything belongs to me" ("все теперь колхозное, все теперь мое"), suggests that people on collective farms treasured all common property as their own. It was sometimes used ironically to refer to instances of petty theft. The Law of Spikelets, which made stealing from the collective punishable by ten years’ imprisonment, was a failed attempt to break this attitude.
  • Isolation from world culture, created by the Soviet Union's restrictions on travel abroad and strict censorship of information in the media (as well as the abundance of propaganda). The intent was to insulate the Soviet people from Western influence; instead, "exotic" Western culture became more interesting precisely because it was forbidden. Soviet officials called this fascination "Western idolatry" (идолопоклоничество перед Западом).
  • Passive acceptance or obedience of everything the government imposed on them.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, many social and economic problems in Russia were blamed on Homo Sovieticus’ inability to adapt to a market-economy based capitalist society.

After the fall of the Soviet empire

Zinoviev changed his critical attitude to communism in light of the crime, corruption and economic problems that Russia faced after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the 1990s many of his statements were apologetic of communism and he became one of the most radical critics of the reforms initiated by Boris Yeltsin.[2] He argued that the West was the key influence in the Union’s downfall, and even claimed that the West made use of Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin as its agents for crushing Russia. In 1996, he appealed to the public to support Gennady Zyuganov, a Communist candidate who eventually lost the race against Yeltsin. According to Solzhenitsyn, Zinoviev was one of those who later viewed forced collectivization as a long-awaited gift offered to the peasants. [4]

Return to Russia

After 21 years of exile, Alexander Zinoviev returned to Russia in 1999. Having turned anti-West, he stated that "headed by the United States (a global super-society located in the USA), the West has deliberately put into practice a program for destroying Russia."[5] He used to be an ardent supporter of Yugoslavia's anti-Western leader, Slobodan Milošević, and visited him, praising him as a true fighter against the 'Westernizers'. Regarding Josef Stalin, whom Zinovyev and his comrades had once planned to assassinate, Zinovyev declared: “I consider him one of the greatest persons in the history of mankind. In the history of Russia he was, in my opinion, even greater than Lenin. Until Stalin's death I was anti-Stalinist, but I always regarded him as a brilliant personality.”[6]

In his online interview, Zinovyev maintained that all the accusations brought against Milošević were mere slander; he also declared that he admired Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladić, whom he regarded as significant and brave persons of the twentieth century.[7] Zinoviev was a co-chairman of the International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic [3]. After the death of Milošević in March 2006, the future of this association remains unclear.

Zinoviev was opposed to globalization, which he compared to World War III. He was also fervently critical of the US role in the world; he regarded the US as ten times more dangerous to Russia than Nazi Germany. [4]


  • member of Bavarian Academy of Arts
  • member of Italian Academy of Science
  • Prix Europeén de l'essai, 1977
  • Best European Novel, 1978
  • Prix Médicis Étranger, 1978
  • Prix Tocqueville, 1982
  • honorary citizen of Ravenna, Avignon and Orange, Vaucluse.


Scientific works

  • Философские проблемы многозначной логики (1960)
  • Логика высказываний и теория вывода (1962)
  • Основы научной теории научных знаний (1967)
  • Complex Logics (Комплексная логика), 1970)
  • The Logics of Science (Логика науки), 1972
  • Logical Physics (Логическая физика), 1972

Fiction and sociological works

  • The Yawning Heights (Зияющие высоты) 1976
  • The Radiant Future (Светлое будущее) 1978
  • On the Threshold of Paradise (В преддверии рая) 1979
  • Without Illusions (Без иллюзий) 1979 [8]
  • Communism as a Reality (Коммунизм как реальность) 1980
  • The Yellow House (Желтый дом) 1980
  • We and the West (Мы и Запад) 1981
  • Homo Sovieticus (Гомо советикус) (1982) ISBN 0871130807
  • Neither Liberty, nor Equality, nor Fraternity (Ни свободы, ни равенства, ни братства) 1983
  • Para Bellum (Пара беллум) 1982
  • The Wings of Our Youth Нашей юности полёт 1983
  • Go to Golgatha (Иди на Голгофу) 1985
  • Gorbachevism (Горбачевизм) 1988
  • Catastroika (Катастройка) 1988
  • Live! (Живи) 1989
  • Смута 1994
  • The Russian Experiment (Русский эксперимент) 1994
  • The West (Запад) 1995
  • Глобальный человейник 1997


  1. alternative transliterations: Alexandre, Aleksandr, Zinoviev, Zinov'yev
  2. Without Illusions, 1979. in Russian language text: "Без иллюзий"
  3. [1] A similar term in Russian slang is sovok (Совок), which is derived from Soviet but also means scoop.
  4. Александр Солженицын, Россия в обвале, 1998. (гл. 25. Болезни русского национализма) "Àëåêñàíäð Ñîëæåíèöûí"
  5. David Johnson, November 29, 2000, "Johnson's Russia List–4659", Center for Defense Information.
  6. Независимая Газета, "Alexander Zinoviev", Александр Александрович Зиновьев.
  7. Sergey Stefanov, Moscow, March 16, 2002, "I doubt they will surrender alive", On-line Pravda.Ru,
  8. Complete text (in Russian language): "Без иллюзий"

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • O'Boyle, Edward J. (January 1993). "Work Habits and Customer Service in Post-Communist Poland". 'International Journal of Social Economics' 20/1.
  • Ragozin, Leonid. (May 9, 2005) "Thorny legacy of 'Soviet Man'".
  • Tischner, Józef (2005). Etyka solidarności oraz Homo sovieticus. ISBN 8324005889. 
  • Zinovyev, Aleksandr (1986). Homo sovieticus. Grove/Atlantic. ISBN 0871130807. 

External links

All links retrieved July 18, 2023.


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