1. A little more about Zinoviev
This is another item that ended up in bit heaven two days ago. It is part of the crisis-series because Zinoviev's books about the Soviet Union should help one understand the crisis in the West, if read with genuine intelligence, because his theme was in fact mostly power and its mechanisms and abuse in social institutions of any kind, whether nominally "socialist", "communist" or "capitalist".
1. A little more about Zinoviev
There are several more or less well-known Zinovievs (also spelled "Zinovyev", Zinov'yev or - in German - "Sinovjev") but the one I mean is the Russian philosopher, logician and dissident Aleksander Aleksandrovich Zinoviev, whom I wrote about several times in Nederlog, notably here, in September 2009:
The reason I bracketed "Soviet" is that I believe he was mostly talking about mankind and the use and abuse of power in governments, institutions and organizations of all kinds.
To quote myself:
What struck me from the first when reading "Yawning Heights" is that Zinoviev in fact was talking far more about the general characteristics of power, bureaucracy, corporate institutions, totalitarianism and human corruptability than he seemed to think - for while he wrote explicitly about the Soviet Union, and only with real experience of Soviet type societies, and without real experience of Western societies, it was immediate clear to me that the human types, practices and the consequences thereof that he wrote about apply pretty generally in human history (possibly apart from the Renaissance and Ancient Greece), and often apply more or less literally to - for example - the modern Dutch society I live in.
There is considerably more by way of the link including this, that is one of the reasons to write about him again:
It is this which interests me in Zinoviev's - as he calls them - sociological theories whereas his more particular judgements about the Soviet Union, Russia, or politics since 1980 interest me much less, also because I usually diasgreed more than not, and because I believe that wheras I can judge sensibly about the Soviet Union and Russia in general terms, I cannot do so on the basis of having lived there many years as a citizen.
Second, about what it really all is about: It concerns the possibilities of a real humane civilization, dedicated to the development of its human individuals, science and art, where human beings are free to think and speak as they please, and can make the most of their native talents, especially in the light of what has been made of this foundational plan and motivation for human society (after all: to cooperate so as to further each other's interests, find knowledge, and make life better by developing technology and art) in the course of history.
Now I found a text by someone who knows more about Russia and the Soviet Union than I do, and probably also more about his non-logical books, and it is here, on a site called Zinoviev.info: where there is considerably more about him that I have not read yet and may return to:
His assessment of the Soviet Union as such I cannot properly judge for lack of sufficient relevant knowledge, and usually I did (and do) not agree with Zinvoviev's political judgments after 1980, as I also did (and do) not agree with his judgements about modern Russia (to which he returned in 1999, aged 77, and where he lived till his death in 2006), though it is again true that he knew a lot more about the Soviet Union and Russia than I do, and that he lived there for a long time - something which seems to me to be quite relevant for adequate understanding of what it was and is like.
- Philip Hanson: Alexander Zinoviev and the Russian Tragedy. The Reality of Post-Communism (*)
This I have read, and found interesting, and it clarified some for me, though not much. To explain some of the paradoxical qualities of the man, here is some from an obituary that appeared in 2006, that I also found on the Zinoviev.info site:
I'll quote from this in a moment, but first try to explain three special reasons for my being interested in him.
First, logic. I learned about him in 1975, when I found that he had written books about logic that incorporated ideas about negation that I had found myself (considerably later than he did), so that I am one of the few - outside the former Soviet Union - who knew of him as a logician and philosopher before knowing of him as a satirist.
Second, marxism. Apart from that, I hail from a Dutch communist family. My parents were sincere communists, partially because of the economic crisis of the thirties, partially because they were members of the communist resistance against Nazism, for which reason my father and his father were arrested and convicted to German concentration camps, as "political terrorists", that my grandfather did not survive, and partially because they were moral idealists, who believed in a better world and a better society than they were born in.
Third, individualism. At age 14, in 1964, I had managed to be a candidate for removal as an undesirable alien from the German Democratic Republic (the Soviet satellite state under Walter Ulbricht), whereto I had been send by my parents as "a Dutch Pioneer", because the GDR struck me as "fascist pig's crap" - German: "fascistische Schweinerei" - which I had said and repeated in public, and refused to retract, because I really thought so: I found the militarism, the discipline, the forced praise of Our Comrade Leonid Brezhnev by seven year olds demeaning, degrading, inhuman and immoral, and I was 14, and was used to be able to speak my mind.
As it happened, I was not removed as an undesirable alien from the GDR because meanwhile I had stepped into a rusty nail and had gotten blood poisoning and had to be hospitalized, and as it also happened I had given up Marxism, socialism and communism byv the time I was 20, mostly because I had then discovered Bertrand Russell, Aristotle, Plato and mathematical logic, all of which seemed to me a lot more sensible than Marx.
So this explains why I found Zinoviev quite interesting, and indeed also why I have briefly corresponded with him and indeed met him once, though by that time he already had political ideas - see below - that I could not accept.
Alexander Zinoviev, who died on May 10 aged 83, was a Soviet philosopher whose biting satires of life under Communism caused him to be exiled to the West for more than 20 years.
And here is a little more:
Like his compatriot Alexander Solzhenitsyn he was equally critical of the liberal democracies which had given him refuge; after the fall of Communism he returned to his homeland an intransigent and unrelentingly gloomy commentator on the world and all its ills.
A Professor of Logic at Moscow State University, Zinoviev had already acquired a troublesome reputation by the time he wrote The Yawning Heights, the allegorical satire that was to lead him into exile. Published in Russian in Lausanne in 1976, it portrayed the Soviet Union as Ibansk (”f***town”), where the inhabitants obey the Soviet imperative that only mediocrity shall prosper; that those who stand out should be cut down, and that moral worth must be persecuted.
The town is ruled by The Boss (Stalin), who rose to the top only because he was a complete nonentity. He is displaced by Hog (Krushchev), who repudiates the boss only in order to hold on to power. The leaders are decorated for being leaders, then decorated again for being decorated. The only reason there is no unemployment is that people are engaged in an imitation of work; everything is deliberately kept inefficient.
Given a position in the Institute of Philosophy of the Academy of Sciences, he wrote more than 20 works on logic, including Philosophical Problems of Many-Valued Logic (1960), which won him international recognition and, in 1962, a professorship. Later he became chairman of the Department of Mathematical Logic at Moscow University.
Zinoviev’s name was often included on Soviet delegations to international conferences, but he was never allowed to go. His refusal to expel dissident professors from his department aroused official suspicions. These hardened still further when, in 1970, Zinoviev resigned from the editorial board of the leading Soviet philosophical journal in protest at Brezhnev’s personality cult. By 1974 he was almost completely isolated.
In exile Zinoviev continued to publish, and remained one of the most outspoken critics of Soviet Communism until perestroika. But his belief that the stability of the Soviet system was grounded in popular consent and that western concepts of freedom were alien to the Russian character meant that he was never very close to other dissidents, and he remained an isolated figure. Democratic ideals, he believed, were irrelevant to most Russians: “Talk about human rights, about freedoms, is something empty for these people. It is like a guitar for a clergyman. An umbrella for a fish.”
In the 1990s he emerged as one of the most vociferous critics of the reforms initiated by Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin and, in 1996, to the surprise of some, supported the Communist candidate Gennady Zyuganov for the presidency. The unexpected collapse of Communism had come as a considerable shock to Zinoviev, and transformed his view. In that collapse he saw the fall of Russia, an event that had been planned and precipitated by the West. In 1999, declaring that he could no longer live “in the camp of those who are destroying my country and my people,” he returned to Russia.
Back on his native soil he predicted that the whole world would soon experience the fearful consequences of a “democratic totalitarianism” being imposed by the United States under George W Bush. A fervent supporter of Slobodan Milosevic, he was co-chairman of an international committee to defend the fallen Serbian tyrant.
The last paragraph probably clarifies why I spoke of "the paradoxical qualities of the man" - that probably have a lot to do with his having been born and raised in the Soviet Union, where I have never been, and that I very probably would have disliked as strongly as I disliked and despised the GDR, whence I only was not forcibly removed from at age 14 as an undesirable alien because I urgently needed to be hospitalized, and after I had recovered from that could be returned normally with the group I had come with.
In any case: Alexander Zinoviev was a smart and brave man, who wrote many interesting books that should enable the intelligent reader to understand more about society, power and being human(e).
There is more about the man here, where I have linked to the English version:
There are also Gernan, French and Russian versions.The link gives another view of Zinoviev, by Charles Janson:
Alexander Zinoviev: Experiences of a Soviet Methodologist
(*) The subtitle is word play: One of Zinoviev's books is called "The Reality of Communism" - that turns out to be rather like the reality of postmodern capitalism: Human kind and ordinary men are the same, and so are relations of power.
About ME/CFS (that I prefer to call M.E.: The "/CFS" is added to facilitate search machines) which is a disease I have since 1.1.1979: