Homo Sovieticus

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Главполитпросвет № 331 (Glavpolitprosvet 331)

Homo Sovieticus (Dog Latin for "Soviet Man") is a pejorative for an average conformist person in the Soviet Union and other countries of the Eastern Bloc. The term was popularized by Soviet writer and sociologist Aleksandr Zinovyev, who wrote the book titled Homo Sovieticus.[1]

Michel Heller asserted that the term was coined in the introduction of a 1974 monograph "Sovetskye lyudi" ("Soviet People") to describe the next level of evolution of humanity thanks to the success of Marxist social experiment.[2]

In a book published in 1981, but available in samizdat in the 1970s, Zinovyev also coined an abbreviation homosos (гомосос, literally a homosucker).[3]


The idea that the Soviet system would create a new, better kind of Soviet people was first postulated[when?] by the advocates of the system; they called the prospective outcome the "New Soviet man". Homo Sovieticus, however, was a term with largely negative connotations, invented by opponents to describe what they saw as the real result of Soviet policies. In many ways it meant the opposite of the New Soviet man, someone characterized by the following:

  • Indifference to the results of his labour (as expressed in the saying "They pretend they are paying us, and we pretend we are working").
  • Lack of initiative and avoidance of taking any individual responsibility for anything. Jerzy Turowicz wrote: "it's a person enslaved, incapacitated, deprived of initiative, unable to think critically; he expects – and demands – everything to be provided by the state, he cannot and doesn't want to take his fate in his own hands".[4][5]
  • Indifference to common property and to petty theft from the workplace, either for personal use or for profit.[6] A line from a popular song, "Everything belongs to the kolkhoz, everything belongs to me" ("всё теперь колхозное, всё теперь моё" / vsyo teperь kolkhoznoe, vsyo teperь moyo), meaning that people on collective farms treasured all common property as their own, was sometimes used ironically to refer to instances of petty theft: "Take from the plant every nail, you are the owner here, not a guest" ("Тащи с завода каждый гвоздь - ты здесь хозяин, а не гость" / taschi s zavoda kazhdyj gvozd' - ty zdes' hozyain, a ne gost').
  • Chauvinism. The Soviet Union's restrictions on travel abroad and strict censorship of information in the media (as well as the abundance of propaganda) aimed to insulate the Soviet people from Western influence. There existed non-public "ban lists" of Western entertainers and bands, which, in addition to the usual criteria of not conforming to fundamental Soviet values, were added to the list for rather peculiar reasons; one such example being the Irish band U2, the name of which resembled that of Lockheed U-2, a high-altitude U.S. reconnaissance airplane. As a result, "exotic" Western popular culture became more interesting precisely because it was forbidden. Due to limited exposure, entertainers considered minor, B-list, or of low artistic value in the West were regarded as A-list in the Soviet sphere. Soviet officials called this fascination "Idol worshiping the West" (идолопоклонство перед Западом / idolopoklonstvo pered Zapadom).
  • Obedience to or passive acceptance of everything that government imposes (see authoritarianism).
  • In the opinion of a former US ambassador to Kazakhstan, a tendency to drink heavily: "[a Kazakh defence minister] appears to enjoy loosening up in the tried and true Homo Sovieticus style – i.e., drinking oneself into a stupor".[7]

According to Leszek Kolakowski, the Short course history of the CPSU(b) played a crucial role in forming the key social and mental features of the Homo Sovieticus as a "textbook of false memory and double thinking". Over the years, Soviet people were forced to continuously repeat and accept constantly changing editions of the Short course, each containing a slightly different version of the past events. This inevitably led to forming "a new Soviet man: ideological schizophrenic, honest liar, person always ready for constant and voluntary mental self-mutilations".[8]

The "Soviet man" is characterised by his tendency to follow the authority of the state in its assessment of reality, to adopt an attitude of mistrust and anxiety towards anything foreign and unknown, and is convinced of his own powerlessness and inability to affect the surrounding reality; from here, it is only a step towards lacking any sense of responsibility for that reality. His suppressed aggression, birthed by his chronic dissatisfaction with life, his intense sense of injustice and his inability to achieve self-realisation, and his great envy, all erupt into a fascination with force and violence, as well as a tendency towards "negative identification" – in opposition to "the enemy" or "the foreigner". Such a personality suits a quasi-tribal approach to standards of morality and law (the things "our people" have a right to do are condemned in the "foreigner").

— "Conflict-dependent Russia. The domestic determinants of the Kremlin's anti-western policy", Maria Domańska

Critique of the term[edit]

According to the Russian scholar-educator Nikolay Nikandrov, the expression Homo sovieticus is an insulting name invented by the critics of Soviet power for the "new man" mentioned by the classics of Marxism-Leninism as part of the new historical community whose construction was declared in the Soviet Union ("Soviet people").[9]

The contemporary American and Russian sociologist and social anthropologist Alexei Yurchak believe that the constant reference to the expression Homo sovieticus in Western academic and publicist discourse manifested assumptions that socialism was "bad", "amoral" or "imposed", expressing ideas about the existence of socialism as such in the Soviet Union and, accordingly, about the inevitable collapse of the Soviet Union.[10]

Sociologist Mikhail Gabovich compares[11] Homo sovieticus to the original sin to which various disorder in human society is usually blamed.

According to philosopher Artem Magun, the disappointment of a group of Russian intellectuals including Zinovyev and Levada in the Soviet project had extremely negative consequences in the 1970s: elitism in the Soviet intelligentsia, the emergence of an anti-national and anti-populist pathos ("we are heavenly men, we think, but there is gloom and some anthropological degenerates around"). Despite the intellectuals' hypothetical affiliation with the Homo sovieticus, this approach was just a pretense, Magun concluded. Magun concludes that the hostility of the intelligentsia towards the people was the cause of its subsequent (in the 1990s) betrayal, which in turn led to the counter-attack of "Putinist populism".[12]

Homo post-sovieticus[edit]

Since 1991 interest has extended to the phenomenon of homo post-sovieticus.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Soviet-era satirist Zinovyev dies". BBC News. 2006-05-10.
  2. ^ Heller (Geller), Mikhail (1988). Cogs in the Wheel: The Formation of Soviet Man. Alfred A. Knopf. pp. 27, 43, 47. ISBN 978-0394569260. Heller quotes from a 1974 book "Sovetskye lyudi" ("Soviet People"): Soviet Union is the fatherland of a new, more advanced type of Homo sapiens - Homo sovieticus.
  3. ^ Harboe Knudsen, Ida (2013). New Lithuania in Old Hands: Effects and Outcomes of EUropeanization in Rural Lithuania. p. 20. ISBN 9781783080472. Retrieved 6 May 2014.
  4. ^ Turowicz, Jerzy (1993). "Pamięć i rodowód". Tygodnik Powszechny (45).
  5. ^ Liberi sine fano.
  6. ^ 1917–1987: Unsuccessful and Tragic Attempt to Create a "New Man" Archived 2011-07-27 at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ Greg McArthur "Vain, shady and stupendously fat: Latest WikiLeaks like a teen's diary", The Globe and Mail, 30 November 2010.
  8. ^ Kolakowski, Leszek (2008). Main Currents of Marxism: The Founders, the Golden Age, the Breakdown. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0393329438.
  9. ^ Bridges, David (1997). Education, Autonomy, and Democratic Citizenship: Philosophy in a Changing World. Psychology Press. ISBN 978-0-415-15334-8.
  10. ^ Yurchak, Alexei (2003). "Soviet Hegemony of Form: Everything Was Forever, until It Was No More". Comparative Studies in Society and History. 45 (3): 480–510. doi:10.1017/S0010417503000239. ISSN 0010-4175. JSTOR 3879459. S2CID 197659886.
  11. ^ Габович, Михаил (2008). "К дискуссии о теоретическом наследии Юрия Левады". Вестник общественного мнения: Данные. Анализ. Дискуссии. Journal Article (in Russian). 96 (4): 50–61.
  12. ^ "«Советская философская школа: опыт свободы» | Диалоги ОБ". www.open-lib.ru (in Russian). Retrieved 2021-08-16.
  13. ^ For example: van der Zweerde, Evert (2006). "Glasnost and perestroika". In Leonard, Thomas M. (ed.). Encyclopedia of the Developing World. Vol. 1. New York: Routledge (published 2013). p. 70. ISBN 9781135205157. Retrieved 2018-07-31. Soviet-style communism was a twentieth century social experiment that failed [...]. This experiment included the attempt to create a New Man, the Homo sovieticus (Kharkhordin 1999). One of the burning questions for post-Soviet Russia still is whether Homo post-sovieticus is capable of forming the human material for a new, prosperous, and democratic Russia.

Further reading[edit]