History of Literature

Russian literature


Aleksandr Zinovyev


Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Zinovyev (Russian: Алекса́ндр Алекса́ндрович Зино́вьев; October 29, 1922 – May 10, 2006, Russia) was an internationally recognised Russian logician, sociologist and writer.

Son of a poor Russian peasant, Zinovyev distinguished himself as a fighter pilot in the Second World War, and later as a scientist, having earned a professor’s title and international recognition in the field of logic. After that, in the 1970s he voluntarily sacrificed his social standing by voicing a critical attitude to the political system of the Soviet Union, and eventually facing exile in 1978 for having published his novels The Yawning Heights and The Radiant Future. He continued to develop his ideas about society and projected them in his writings, at times employing his original genre of the sociological novel.

While there is no general agreement on Aleksandr Zinovyev’s political views and their shift over time, he always asserted the need for a logically consistent theory for the study of human society, that should be devoid of ideology and vague clichés. He proposed his logical sociology as a foundation for such a theory.


Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Zinovyev was born in the village of Pakhtino, Chukhlomsky District, Kostroma Oblast as the sixth child to Aleksandr Yakovlevich and Appolinariya Vasilyevna. A few years after Aleksandr’s birth they moved to Moscow, seeking better quality of life.

Zinovyev excelled at school, and in 1939 he entered the Institute of Philosophy, Literature and History of Moscow. He was soon expelled for a critical attitude to forced collectivisation, and even was forbidden to enter any other institute. He claims that he was arrested but then managed to escape, and later involved in a plot to assassinate Joseph Stalin during a school parade (the plan was called off). He joied the Red Army in 1940 and took part in the Great Patriotic War as tankist and fighter pilot, receiving many medals for a distinguished flight record.

Scientific work in Moscow
Zinovyev entered Moscow State University; he later told that his ban from higher education was overlooked for a bribe — a box of sweets. He graduated in 1951 summa cum laude with a thesis on logical structure of Marx’ Das Kapital (the thesis was only published in Russia in 2002). During the following decades he became one of the most important logicians of the USSR.

Alexander Zinovyev wrote many articles and books on logic (especially multivalued logic) and methodology of science and was often invited to international conferences, yet the authorities never let him attend. As professor and the chairman of Moscow State University Logic Department, Zinovyev got the reputation of a pro-dissident since he refused to expel dissident professors. In a gesture of protest against Brezhnev’s cult of personality, he resigned from the editorial board of Voprosy Filosofii (“Problems of Philosophy”), the leading journal on philosophy of the time.

The sociological novel
Various fictional, often satirical, stories he wrote about the Soviet society agglomerated into his first major work of fiction, Yawning Heights. After the release of the book in Switzerland in 1976, Zinovyev was demoted from his lecturer’s position, evicted from the Academy of Sciences, rescinded of all awards including his war medals, and finally expelled from Soviet Union after his second novel of a similar satirical style, The Radiant Future, was published in the West in 1978. He settled in Munich where he lived until 1999.

Yawning Heights was the first in a series of Zinovyev’s fictional works that are recognised to belong in the original genre that he has called the sociological novel. Yawning Heights was a success, being soon translated into most major European languages and read aloud in Russian via Western radio broadcasts. Such novels describe fictional situations with much focus on aspects that are socially significant. Characters, who vary in their personal qualities and social positions, discuss their life in the society, being allowed by the author to voice different opinions on divers issues. Zinovyev admits that much misunderstanding of his ideas arises from undue confusion of his point of view with those of his characters.

Sociological work in exile
Among Zinovyev’s non-fictional works from that time are Without Illusions (1979), We and the West (1981), Communism as a Reality (1981), 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 Zinovyev. He explained thereby his way of interpretation of the Communist society, while expressing loyalty to the scientific method. Zinovyev postulated that the Western powers had underestimated the threat of Communism, especially the peaceful infiltration of Communist traits into the Western society. He claimed that Communism did not destroy and principally could not have destroyed the social differences among the people, but had only changed the forms of inequality. Zinovyev emphasised his view that the Soviet regime’s peculiarities were not irrational in essence, nor result of some incidental circumstances. Rather, he would assert, they followed from “laws of society” and based on mainly rational and calculated decisions of its participants. However, Zinovyev was one of the most outspoken critics of the Soviet regime until the era of Perestroyka. Unlike Solzhenitsyn, who sought a kind of revival of pre-1917 Russia, Zinovyev dismissed the importance of the Russian Orthodox Church and of Russian nationalism.

After the “Catastroika”
Zinovyev ceased to criticise Communism at the very dawn of Perestroika, before the upsurge of crime and socio-economic problems that Russia faced in the 1990s. He became sympathetic to some aspects of the Soviet regime, and most radically condemned the reforms initiated by Boris Yeltsin. He argues that the West was the key influence in the Union's downfall: “Headed by the United States (a global supersociety located in the USA), the West has purposely implemented a program for destroying Russia”. In 1996, he appealed to the public to support Gennady Zyuganov, a Communist candidate who eventually lost the presidential election to Yeltsin. According to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Zinovyev spoke of collectivisation in the USSR as of a “long-awaited gift to the Russian peasantry”.

Return to Russia
After 21 years of exile, Aleksandr Zinovyev returned to Russia in 1999, declaring that he could no longer live “in the camp of those who are destroying my country and my people”. He approved of Yugoslavia’s anti-Western leader Slobodan Milošević and visited him. Regarding Joseph Stalin, 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 an outstanding personality.”

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 regards as significant and brave persons of the 20th century. Zinovyev was a co-chairman of the International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic.

Zinovyev was opposed to globalisation, which he likened to a “Third World War”. He was also fervently critical of the United States’ role in the world, regarding them as more dangerous to Russia than Nazi Germany.

Zinovyev was married three times and had several children. On May 10, 2006, Aleksandr Zinovyev died of brain cancer.

Study of the Western world’s society
In his later non-fictional works (and the sociological novel The Global Humant Hill), Zinovyev analyses the post-Soviet and modern Western social formations, arguing, among other things, that such concepts as 'democracy', 'capitalism', 'communism', 'free market', 'liberalism', 'society', 'totalitarianism' do not grasp the actual social phenomena of the modern society.

Zinovyev repeatedly asserted the decline of significance of the nation-state framework, and the recent (post-World War II) emergence of a new phenomenon of what he calls a supersociety (Russian: сверхобщество). The supersocial traits arise due to the exhaustion of the fundamental “evolutionary limit” of the usual societies (like nation-states, although with no implicit strict correspondence between the terms). According to Zinovyev, both Communist and Western countries exhibited similar tendencies of development, which he attributes to that new supersociety. They include:

the complex supereconomy, which is de facto planned to a great degree;
the powerful supergovernment of networks and cliques that is non-democratic by nature;
yet, at the same time, the seemingly unreasonable growth of governmental structures and institutions;
the corruption of some liberalist principles like that of separation of powers;
the emergence of superhumans (with the two variations: homo sovieticus in the USSR and the zapadoid (Russian: западоид — literally, “Westoid”) in the West)that have some new, important behavioural qualities moulded by the changed social conditions.


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