Born to a poor provincial family, he distinguished himself in the Second World War and later in the scholarship of logic. In the 1970s he arose with criticum of the Soviet political system, sacrificing his high academical station in Moscow. Eventually Zinoviev faced exile in 1978, after his novels Yawning Heights and The Radiant Future were published in Europe. He continued to develop his socio-philosophical ideas in subsequent publications, at times employing his original genre of the sociological novel.
After the Collapse of the Soviet Union, Zinovyev wrote a book A Russian Tragedy (Русская Трагедия) about the USSR's collapse, calling it a catastrophe. In his later life, he championed the Soviet system and regarded post-Soviet Russia with disdain. He considered Stalin as one of the greatest personalities in history.
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 later they moved to Moscow, seeking better quality of life.
Zinovyev excelled at school, and in 1939 entered the Moscow Institute of Philosophy, Literature and History. He was soon expelled for a negative attitude to forced collectivisation, and forbidden to enroll with any other institute. He alleged that he was involved in a plot to assassinate Joseph Stalin during a school parade, but that the plan was called off; also, that he got arrested, but evaded prosecution. He joined the Red Army in 1940 and fought in the Great Patriotic War, even as fighter pilot, receiving honours and awards for a distinguished service.
Scientific work in Moscow
In 1946 Alexander Zinoviev entered Moscow State University; he since 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 the logical structure of Marx’ Das Kapital. During the following decades he became one of the most important logicians of the USSR.
As professor and head of Logic department at MSU, Zinoviev accumulated a subtly dissident reputation, having refused to expel politically discriminated staff, and, in a gesture of protest against Brezhnev’s cult of personality, resigned from the editorial board of “Problems of Philosophy”, the leading Soviet journal on philosophy at that time.
The sociological novel
Zinoviev’s diverse satirical stories agglomerated into his first major non-academic work, 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, stripped of all awards including his war medals, and offered the liberty to leave the Soviet Union after his second novel of similar satirical style, The Radiant Future, was published in the West in 1978. With his family he settled in Munich where they lived until 1999.
Yawning Heights was a success, soon translated into most major European languages and read aloud in Russian via Western radio broadcasts.
Sociological work in exile
Among Zinovyev’s non-fictional works from that time are Without Illusions (1979), The Reality of Communism (1980), 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 scientific method. Zinovyev postulated that the Western powers had underestimated the threat of Communism, and 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, changing only the outward manifestations of inequality.
Zinovyev emphasised his view that the Soviet regime’s main peculiarities were not irrational in essence, nor result of some incidental circumstances. Rather, he would assert, they followed from the inherent “laws of society”, the systematic outcome of the combined actions 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 denied all credit to the Russian Orthodox Church and to nationalist doctrines.
In his book The West: phenomenon of Westernism (1995) Zinoviev presented a detailed analysis of the modern capitalist society which he called "Westernism". In the introduction to the book Zinoviev wrote that he came to the conclusion that can be summarized as follows. In economic terms Westernism strives to create jobs and revenue streams for those who do not produce products and services, and to strengthen private enterprise as the most effective means of forcing people to work. In social and political terms Westernism seeks to strengthen undemocratic aspect of the society, and transform democracy into a camouflage for the totalitarian state rule.
After the “Catastroika”
Zinovyev ceased to criticise Communism at the very dawn of Perestroika, years before the upsurge of crime and socio-economic problems that Russia faced in the 1990s. He spoke in defense of 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 based 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 visited and approved of Yugoslavia’s leader Slobodan Milošević, who was inconclusively tried for war crimes. 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 Karadžić and Ratko Mladić, whom he regards as significant persons of the 20th century. Zinovyev was a co-chairman of the International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic. He likened the process of globalisation to a Third World War, whose first, completed phase was the Cold War.
On May 10, 2006, Aleksandr Zinovyev died in Moscow of brain cancer.
(beside Soviet scientific degrees and War medals)
- member of Finnish Academy of Science, 1974
- member of Italian Academy of Science, 1978
- member of Bavarian Academy of Arts, 1984
- Prix Europeén de l'essai laureate, 1977
- award Best European Novel, 1978
- Prix Médicis Étranger laureate, 1978
- Prix Alexis de Tocqueville laureate, 1982
- honorary citizen of Ravenna, Avignon, Orange and Kostroma
- The Philosophical Problems of the Polyvalential Logic (Философские проблемы многозначной логики, 1960)
- Логика высказываний и теория вывода (1962)
- The Principles of the Scientific Theory of Scientific Knowledge (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
- Notes of the Nightwatchman (В преддверии рая) 1979
- Communism as a Reality (Коммунизм как реальность) 1980
- The Yellow House (Желтый дом) 1980
- We and the West (Мы и Запад) 1981
- Homo Soveticus (Гомо советикус) (1982) ISBN 0-87113-080-7
- No Liberty, No Equality, No Fraternity (Ни свободы, ни равенства, ни братства) 1983
- Para Bellum (Пара беллум) 1982
- My Home my Exile (Мой дом – моя чужбина) 1982
- The Wings of Our Youth (Нашей юности полёт) 1983
- Gospels for Ivan (Евангенлие для Ивана) 1982
- Go to Golgatha (Иди на Голгофу) 1985
- Gorbachevism (Горбачевизм) 1988
- Catastroika (Катастройка) 1988
- Live! (Живи) 1989
- My Chekhov (Мой Чехов) 1989
- The Embroilment (Смута, 1994)
- The Russian Experiment (Русский эксперимент) 1994
- The West: phenomenon of westernism (Запад: феномен западнизма) 1995
- The Post-Communist Russia (Посткоммунистическая Россия) 1996
- The Global Humant Hill (Глобальный человейник) 1997
- The Russian Fate (Русская судьба) 1999
- The Global suprasociety and Russia (Глобальное сверхобщество и Запад) 2000
- The Endeavour (Затея) 2000
- The Demise of Russian communism (Гибель русского коммунизма) 2001
- The logical sociologe (Логическая социология) 2003
- The West (Запад) 2003
- The Russian tragedy: the Death of a Utopia (Русская трагедия: гибель утопии) 2002
- The Ideology of the Party of the Future (Идеология партии будущего) 2003
- Suprasociety ahead (На пути к сверхобществу) 2004
- The logical intellect (Логический интеллект) 2005
- The crossroads (Распутье) 2005
- The confession of a dissident (Исповедь отщепенца) 2005
- The factor of cognizance (Фактор понимания) 2006
- Alexander Zinoviev as Writer and Thinker: An Assessment by Philip Hanson; Michael Kirkwood
- Alexander Zinoviev on Stalinism: Some Observations on "The Flight of Our Youth". By Philip Hanson in Soviet Studies Vol. 40, No. 1 (Jan., 1988), pp. 125–135
Notes and references
- Russian: Алекса́ндр Алекса́ндрович Зино́вьев; Russian pronunciation: [ʌlʲekˈsandr ʌlʲekˈsandrəvʲɪtɕ zʲɪˈnovʲjəf]. Alternative transliterations: Alexandr, Alexandre, Alexander, Zinoviev, Zinov’yev, Zinov’ev
- Voskhozhdenie ot abstraktnogo k konkretnomu : na materiale "Kapitala" K. Marksa Kafedra filosofii RAN, ISBN 5-201-02089-5
- Without Illusions – (Без иллюзий), 1979. The text in Russian: http://antisoviet.imwerden.de/zinoviev_a_bez_illuz.html.zip
- Johnson's Russia List # 4659
- Александр Солженицын, Россия в обвале, 1998 (гл. 25. Болезни русского национализма) 
- Alexander Zinoviev – Telegraph
- Независимая Газета
- Soviet-era satirist Zinovyev dies
- Quotations related to Alexander Zinoviev at Wikiquote