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Nederlog

 

11 september 2009

 

On Zinoviev's Theory of (Soviet) Man

 

    "Presque tous les hommes sont esclaves, par la raison que les Spartiates donnaient de la servitude des Perses, faute de savoir prononcer la syllabe non. Savoir prononcer ce mot et savoir vivre seul sont les deux seuls moyens de conserver sa liberté et son charactère." (*)
    -- Chamfort

Note on the links in this piece.

I promised before - in Dutch - that since I had found a reasonable summary exposition of Alexander Zinvoviev's sociological ideas on a good site dedicated to Zinoviev (apart from logic and philosophy of science) and would use it to write a review of it and of these ideas of Zinoviev.

This is it, and the exposition is by Libor Brom, and called (ommitting part of the title, for reasons explained in my review) "A General Introduction to Alexander Zinoviev's Theory of the Soviet Man".

Sections:

1. Introduction
2. Zinoviev's person and work
3. Yawning Heights
4. The corruptions of society and of men: A. Ordinary men
5.                                                                        B. Ordinary intellectuals
6.                                                                        C. Dissident intellectuals

7.                                                                        D. Conformist New Man

8. The corruptions of society and of men: Zinoviev summarized

1. Introduction

Brom's essay is descriptively adequate - in sofar as I can judge, but then I have read all of Zinoviev's books about logic, and most of his literary and/or sociological texts, and indeed Brom's summary, which was written in the last years of the previous century, seems to me to be well done.

Before giving my review of this "General Introduction", consisting of quotations with my remarks and explanations, it makes a lot of sense to translate something I wrote yesterday in Dutch about him that explains my general view of him, and then to indicate in general terms what it all is about.

First about what makes Zinoviev's sociological ideas interesting, at least for me:

Apart from logic (about which Zinoviev wrote rather a lot, that is very interesting, at least for those who know logic, and I am one of the few in the West who knows his logical works), I consider him to be an original and sensible thinker about power, bureacracy, corporate institutions, totalitarianism and human corruptability (or plasticity, if you like) in general, that is apart from specific Russian or Soviet forms of these.

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.

In any case: 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, bureacracy, 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 Soviettype 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.

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: I 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.

What became of this general plan to make human society - that started as hordes of naked apes - into a humane cooperation for human individual development and for the social development of science, technology and art in the interest of all?

As far has human history so far is concerned, it seems that Gibbon and Chamfort got it about right, on average and in general:

"History is little else but the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind"
   (Gibbon)

"Presque toute l'Histoire n'est qu'une suite d'horreurs."
   (Chamfort)

Why this is so is a large question, and I am not going to deal with it here (see my On a fundamental problem in ethics and morals, although that too considers only a few aspects), but the general assessment comes to this:

It is mostly because of average human lack of intelligence and character, and the thereby entailed gullibility for propaganda of all kinds and willingness to trade everyday moral principles, such as honesty and fairness and rationality, for the personal benefits for all those in society who act as if they are normal, deserving conformists.

And to some extent this is because the majority cannot do much better than they do, for lack of native talent and because of the education and political, religious and other propaganda they have been exposed to throughout their lives, and to some extent this is because the majority of those who can or could have judged and acted well chose not to, in general because this gave them power, status and preferment in their societies, and they preferred lying and posturing for power and profit over speaking the truth or trying to find it.

Having remarked this (and much more could be said about this subject), I now turn to Brom's essay, that does a good job of summarizing quite a few basic points of Zinoviev's sociological theories - which the reader should realized have all been stated in literary books, often in satirical form, and not in academic treatises in the science of sociology - quite well, and in Zinoviev's own words.

I shall quote rather a lot of it, but most of that are in fact either Brom's paraphrases of Zinoviev's texts, or Zinoviev's own words (as translated into English).

2. Zinoviev's person and work

To start with, here is Brom's introduction of Zinoviev:

Alexander Alexandrovich Zinoviev, formerly head of the Logic Department at Moscow University and now exiled and stripped of his Soviet citizenship for "behavior damaging Soviet prestige," has authored numerous books, lectured at international conferences, and is considered to be one of the most provocative thinkers of our time. Ranging from a satire that depicts the practices of Communist ideology in the Soviet Union to the sociological descriptions of a new type of man (substituting Homo Sovieticus for Homo Sapiens), his publications appear to be unorthodox analyses of contemporary Soviet life. In spite of his controversial conclusions, Zinoviev refuses to call himself a Soviet dissident and emphasizes that he is, first and foremost, the Soviet Man par excellence. (..) This paper is directed to those who wish to be acquainted with the intricate undercurrents found in contemporary Soviet life. It attempts to introduce the literary world of a highly educated Soviet thinker while, at the same time, identifying the major traits of his remarkable protagonist - the Soviet man.

This is a fair and good summary, but I should indicate why I suppressed the first four words of Brom's title, which are "Dialectical Identity and Destiny:".

My reason is mostly that - although it is fair enough in its way - I want to avoid discussing Marxian, Hegelian or other conceptions called "dialectical", because these cannot disccused sensibly and adequately in a short compass, and anyway are mostly misleading, and in so far as it is serious only fit for specialists in philosophy or logic.

But as Brom explains, this dialecticism is relevant:

Zinoviev views Soviet society from the point of view of a dialectic materialist who stresses certain generally neglected logistic points. (..) He stresses that the Soviet Man behaves differently when in isolation from a collective than when within a collective. In the former, the Soviet Man may denounce decisions made by the Central Committee of the Communist Party or by its General Secretary, whereas in the latter he may applaud them. In the first example, the Soviet Man's judgment is abstract, in the latter it is concrete. Zinoviev claims that Marxist apologists and critics have equally failed to accept dialectics as a totality of logistic approaches.

If you read Dutch you may turn to "Over Politiek, Ideologie En Taalgebruik" for relevant explanations of terms in the cited paragraph, in the context of my 1982 assessment of the Dutch CP (since deceased).

Here I will only add that it seems to me that Zinoviev's use of dialectics is mostly rhetorical and satirical and cannot be taken seriously, even if Zinoviev himself seems to have taken it seriously (on a deep level, that rarely comes to the fore in his satirical sociological literary books).

Here is a little more on Zinoviev's philosophical position - and the reader should realize that he was for decades a professor in logic, and qualified academically in philosophy:

Zinoviev endorses wholeheartedly the materialist theory. He believes that an accurate cognitive method must necessarily imply recognition of the objective social laws and historical tendencies. However, power and determinism of these objective laws are irreversible. (..) Such knowledge, Zinoviev claims, is important: people who conform to objective laws will not waste their energy on some "third way" and will "seek realistic fighting ways in order to meliorate their lot" (Ni svobody 25).

With this I agree in principle, apart from its specific formulation and trappings, for it amounts to the two theses that (1) there is a truth to establish and find about the nature and possibilities of human society and homo sapiens, and (2) it is important to try to establish it, even if partially, and even if one knows this is the work of many generations, since as Voltaire said so well

"If we believe absurdities,         
  we shall commit atrocities."    

Next, it is Zinoviev's position and also mine that the great majority of human beings so far have not had the ability to rationally undeceive themselves from the social, political and religious propaganda, illusions and delusions they were raised with, and through no faults of their own:

(..) there is only one power which can weaken the fetters of ideology, even if only for a small number of people. It is literature as a form of comprehension which presents a merciless analysis of the significant events that have occurred. Zinoviev believes that true literature should ultimately remove the illusion that human beings can be saved by history and the hope that someone will be coming to their rescue. Such a literature places the responsibility for each event upon its participants and mobilizes their moral and spiritual powers. Zinoviev feels that literature must reveal to human beings the foundations and mechanisms for their existence and at the same time point out that "if you want to get rid of your enemy, then here is your weapon - fight it out yourself" (Ni svobody 54).

That is, his position is much like mine (and Multatuli's: See ideas 73, 74, 136 and 276 if you read Dutch), namely that in the end it all is a matter of taking individual responsibility for your own acts, ignorance, and education.

The reader should realize that this is fair enough, and indeed the attitude of a rational scientist and true intellectual, but it is not one that is open to the majority of the population, even if they wanted to, simply for lack of prior education, lack of brains or lack of time to read enough.

Next, Brom rightly indicates a Zinovievean stance:

Zinoviev accepts Marxist works as valid phenomena, rather than as a science. Marxism is nothing but an ideology, he claims.

The last seems quite true to me, but "valid phenomena" is a bit ... tricky and dialectical, and probably at least in part justified by Zinoviev's attempts to survive in the Soviet Union.

There is more to it, but the reader should realize that indeed Marxism is an ideology - and (political, religious, moral) ideologies are the foundation of human groups and human societies, because these are kept together by an agreed upon set of ideas, values and terms.

Finally in this context there is this

Zinoviev affirms that an ideological society does not allow one to be the Genuine Man, one who does not seek his own everyday happiness, but prefers to serve, to keep his word, to defend the weak, and to lead a good life. "I have come to understand," he says, "that in our society one must learn to cleverly grab all that one can, to be evasive and shrewd in order not to get hurt" (Nasej 75).

Indeed, and as in the Soviet Union and modern Russia, so in the West, even if the propaganda has a rather different sound.

Here two more things should be briefly mentioned: As indicated above, Zinoviev holds, like I do, that there there is a truth to establish and find about the nature and possibilities of human society and homo sapiens, and basically this comes to the thesis that sofar homo sapiens has mostly made a mess of his chances and capacity, and ruined most of himself in the process, usually for ostensibly the best of reasons, namely to be an ordinary human individual, that is at least somewhat of a social success in his own society.

3. Yawning Heights

Here are two selections of Brom that indicate what manner of book "Yawning Heights" is, and indeed I regard it as Zinoviev's best literary-sociological text:

Zinoviev deals with the Soviet Man in every one of his works and analyzes him from all possible angles, i.e., geographical, historical, social, political, psychological, ethical, and spiritual. In his major literary works we may identify three basic prototypes of the Soviet Man - the Ibanskian Man, the Educated Moscovite, and the Exiled Agent.

These three types will concern most of the rest, but here is another fair characterization of "Yawning Heights":

Zinoviev's plotless satirico-sociological work entitled The Yawning Heights depicts the Soviet Man in a quaint manner. The book evokes comparisons with Rabelais, Hobbes, Swift, and Voltaire (Pritchett, Books). In it the Soviet Union is known as Ibansk (a double pun derived in part from the name Ivan and in part from an obscenity). Its inhabitants bearing the same name, Ibanov, are distinguished by nicknames (Schizophrenic, Slanderer, Shouter, Chatterer, Dauber, etc.), names given to them by the hostile system when they are in opposition, or by venerable epithets (Thinker, Sociologist, Scholar, etc.), when they are loyal to the system at great profit to themselves. Readers tend to picture these characters as historical stereotypes: (..)

This is so, and I recommend my readers to read "Yawning Heights" and add that parts of it, indeed some of the best analytical parts, are not easy though very good and perceptive, and other parts of it are somewhat boring and require a lot of knowledge of actual persons and actual Soviet situations in the previous century to properly understand.

And in case you doubted it: The English translator of "Yawning Heights", Gordon Clough, seems to have done a very good job, and most of "Yawning Heights" is easily readable, though it contains a lot of text.

4. The corruptions of society and of men: A. Ordinary men

Now we come to the contents of "Yawning Heights" and I start with an adequate description of its linguistic styles

Two languages are used, the official one, hypocritical and literary, and the everyday one, colloquial and commonsen- sical. They intermingle as fiction and reality. The whole society, in which the ideology "Ism" has replaced science, and fiction has become more important than reality, endures periods of disorientation, perplexity, and prosperity. This lengthy work, saturated with discussions and dialogues, parodies and ironies, and written without paragraphs and quotation marks, gives the author a powerful instrument that enables him to concentrate on the essence of society and human beings.

Indeed - and the Western reader should realize it is the same here, in bureaucracies, institutions, firms and corporations, as explained e.g. in my Groups in society and Groupthinking in my Philosophical Dictionary.

We come to socialism - that looks and feels rather a lot like capitalism, in its more totalitarian guises, as e.g. practiced in many corporations, firms, bureaucracies and political parties, if not on a social scale, nor fuelled by mandatory state propaganda and censorship:

The Ibanskian society has its own imperatives indeed. First, mediocrity is allowed to dominate, and every Ibanskian person who stands outside or above it is considered dangerous; consequently, moral integrity is automatically subjected to persecution.

As all Dutchmen will know, the one real Moral Norm all Dutchman (except for Queen Beatrix and myself, it seems - and I was thrice removed from the University of Amsterdam over this issue and the issue of truth, that the UIvA for 25 years taught not to exist, other than relatively) is this:

Act normal, for then you act insanely enough!

Indeed, in Holland, considerably more than in other Western countries, it is deemed very desirable for everyone to seem, to behave, to talk, to think and feel as if one is a normal conformist person (with considerable leeway, it is true, depending on the group one belongs to).

Also, foreigners should notice that in practice - such as my removal from the university because of, as its Board of Directors gave men in writing, "your outspoken public opinions" - this pressure to conform to what is normal in a Dutch normal group of normal Dutchmen is quite strong, if not (yet) supported by the (secret) police.

Next comes an important remark on ideology:

While religion is based on belief and science on truth, the existence of an ideology depends upon its acceptance. Hence, it is not necessary for the Ibanskians to believe in an ideology - it is only necessary that they accept it.

Or rather: it is only necessary that they pretend publicly that they accept it. And indeed this is part of the essence of Groupthinking and the Ideological Fallacy: One knows one lies and poses, but one does not allow the discussion of this (except in a quasi-enlightened joking way, with strong undertones that We All are corrupt, and if one were bad oneself, it is only to prevent others from being worse).

Besides, everyone, including morons and the prefrontally-lobotomized can understand an ideology: It conists, in ordinary form, for ordinary men, only in some terminology, some poses, and a socially enacted clear willingness to think, feel, behave, and wish like everybody else, and praise the group and its leaders.

The result of all this conformism tends to contribute a lot to social peace and to - the pretence of - the wellbeing of everyone:

Their society is stable, everything is within the norm, because sickness has become the norm. All Ibanskians are sick and, consequently, they are all healthy. When they shout at the top of their voices that they are only thinking of the welfare of others, they are only thinking about what is good for them; when they insist on sacrificing, they are, in fact, trying to get their hands into everything they can.

Just as in the West, the possibly surprised reader may exclaim here in astonishment - but then this is human, and everyone only feels his or her own feelings, and no one and nothing else, except imaginatively, by empathy (which it tends to be a lot safer only to pretend to have).

By the way: Here lies an underlying theme that inspired many, including De la Boétie, Godwin, Marx, and Orwell, namely the theme of alienation, that may be indicated by the thesis that there is a human nature, and indeed it probably is good rather than bad, but it also tends to be corrupted, falsified, denied, and destroyed in the process of being educated in and conforming to most societies, social groups, firms, parties and religions.

5. The corruptions of society and of men: B. Ordinary intellectuals

Having briefly considered ordinary men, we turn to the salt of the earth, the hope of human society, its thinkers and artists:

The second prototype of Zinoviev's Soviet Man is presented in the book The Radiant Future which seems to be a gloss on Julien Benda's La trahison des clercs. J. O. Tate sees it also as a dystopia like 1984 or, more appropriately, like Zamyatin's We, with the difference being that Zinoviev describes a "glorious present" (299). In dialectical colloquies which would seem idiomatic to Lucian, Rabelais, Swift, and Lewis Carroll, this non-novel novel, with a thinly allegorical fiction, lacking individuated characters and with scarcely a plot, built more or less absurdly out of miscellaneous small sections, mercilessly ridicules Soviet practices.

Indeed, Zinoviev seems to have been speaking quite personally in most of this book, and it relays the attitudes, values, and confusions of Moscow academics of the 1960ies, and the lifes they lead.

At first glance, as Clive James notes, the narrator is ideally equipped to thrive in the Soviet academic system: he has no interest in the subject he researches beyond the fact that it offers advancement (usually by suppressing any sign of originality in others). It is no doubt intentional, as Gordon Clough points out, that in Zinoviev's rendition this Department Head of an important Moscow institute has no name, no face, no spine, and no existence, since - and this is one of the repeated theses in the book - incumbency in such a post is, in itself, an evidence of nonentity (38).

Let me note carefully that in my own alma mater meretrix. the University of Amsterdam, the same was and is practiced since 1972, with very few exceptions, most of which are in studies that really require talent, such as mathematics or physics - and these academics generally made taciturnity and relativism their stances, simply not to miss out on the ongoing stream of tax money to support their academic institutions, positions and incomes, as long as they at least seemed to conform to the rest, publicly.

In general terms, this is the human result of these conformist practices, stances and policies, apart from being a model guy or gal with a fine academic payment and position:

The narrator exists as a stereotype of the educated Moscovite, a Soviet Man, who is destined never to rise to any social or political height. He is a triplex man - he thinks one way, speaks another, and acts in a third way. (..) The dominant attitude of the Russian man towards his fellow men is now made up of malice, intolerance, envy, Schadenfreude, hatred and so on" (116).

It was and is just the same in Dutch universities since 40 years: Each of the accredited academics "thinks one way, speaks another, and acts in a third way" - and can be safely predicted from a cynical assessment of what would best serve his or her financial advancement.

The overall result is this

The fate of the Educated Moscovite in The Radiant Future is boredom, hypocrisy, cynicism, mediocrity, and plain filth

And I have met hardly any genuine intellectuals, genuine intelligent persons, or indeed persons, whether staff or students, who were genuinely interested in science as such: They all were in it for the money, the power, the status, the diploma and not because they were interested in science, truth or humanity, though of course they were forced to publicly pose as if they were, if they wanted to retain their well-paid positions they so eagerly corrupted and betrayed (publicly and ostensibly always for the best and noblest of reasons).

6. The corruptions of society and of men: C. Dissident intellectuals

Then there is a third type of men in most societies, or outside it, as happened to Zinoviev, who was expatriated in 1977 because of "Yawning Heights", namely the dissidents, including those who pose as dissidents because this is their way of making a career or becoming famous:

The third prototype of Zinoviev's Soviet Man appears in Homo Sovieticus, where the narrator is an unknown Russian exiled in Western Europe. He introduces the nature of the Soviet Man in these words: Those who chucked me over here wanted their action to mean this: Look at this man. He is intelligent and educated. Nobody was bamboozling or intimidating him, nobody was corrupting him. Quite the contrary, he did it himself to other people who do not, however, regard themselves as bamboozled, intimidated or corrupted.... It is their nature; and therefore they enjoy doing it both to themselves and to others. They represent a new and more advanced type of thinking being and offer this model to others. Beware! (31-32)

Zinoviev tended to have a low opinion of dissidents. I do not know whether this is adequate for Soviet dissidents (quite a few seem very intelligent and courageous to me), but it is true for the Dutch dissidents I have met (apart from my cmmunist parents and a few of their friends) and most of the Western dissidents I know of, such as my generation of would-be Marxist Revolutionaries of yore, like Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Joschka Fischer, and many others, who were basically just political careerists, out for personal kicks, power and income.

If you want a criterion: Dissidents are hardly credible unless they are poor, or at any rate do not depend on a job in any public organization to make a living. And most dissidents became dissidents because this seemed to them the only or easiest way to become powerful or rich fast, while pretending to do this for the best of moral reasons, and with the help of those deceived by these pretensions.

7. The corruptions of society and of men: Conformist New Man

In general terms, this is what it comes down to, in the former Soviet Union, in the present Russia, and in Wester societies, though the guises, set-ups, trappings, and mechanisms differ from country to country:

The narrator tells his readers that it is absurd to require sincerity from a Soviet Man. "He would be glad to be [sincere], but he can't, because he considers that he is always sincere in one respect or another. So if he is ready to change one sincerity into another from one minute to the next, this isn't a sign of insincerity" (53).

It is the same in Holland, and the reason this is not perceived as "a sign of insincerity" by the very phoneys who insist falsely that they are o so honest and full of the best intentions, is that all these many daily insincerities, lies, deceptions, taciturnities, avoidances, projections a.s.o. are part and parcel of what it means to be a decent conformist person: One must play the game to belong - and (pretending to) playing the game usually pays a lot more than not to do so, which indeed also often endangers one's social position and income.

Here is a selection from a longer passage, dedicated to Soviet academics who as a matter of course reported to the KGB

Morally, the Soviet Man does not see himself as a KGB collaborator. He only participates in power.

It is now nearly quite the same in Holland, apart from the KGB, and indeed there are special "betrayal phone numbers", where decent Dutch citizens can anonymously report on their neighbours' deviances from the public norm to the police.

The reason this is praised in Holland, as collaboration with the KGB was praised in the Soviet Union, is that the Secret Service and the police are supposed to be Our Kind, and to belong to Us, and besides it deserves praise to be a nice and well-behaved conformist and to report one's neighbours to the police, anonymously, of course, in Our National Interests, also.

Next, Brom summarizes a moral position of Zinoviev many would agree to

But if a man finds himself below the bread-line, beneath the minimum that is indispensable if moral norms are to be considered applicable in real life, then it is senseless to apply moral criteria to his behavior. A man in such a position is not only free ipsofacto from moral norms, he is freed from them by these moral concepts themselves. It is immoral to expect a man to be moral if he lacks the minimum living conditions that permit society to demand morality of him. (54)

My father survived nearly 4 years as "a political terrorist" in Nazi concentration- camps, for he was a communist (member of the Dutch CP) and a member of the resistance during WW II in Holland, and he weighed at one point 37 kilos, instead of his healthy 80, but he thought and felt differently about this, and proved that he could and dared to do so in practice.

I think that is given to few, and I also perfectly agree with interpreters of the law since the Middle Ages that a starving person has a right to steal bread if it is plentiful available to others, and not given to him, but as I indicated I don't quite agree here with Zinoviev, without criticising him or others who had to survive as ordinary citizens in a totalitarian state.

Here is Brom summarizing Zinoviev in one of his more conciliatory and conformist moods:

Ultimately, he addresses the reader in these words:

. . . what I am saying here does not express my convictions.... I haven't got any convictions.... If a man has convictions it is a sign that he is not intellectually mature.... more often convictions have no effect on people's behavior. They merely beautify vanity, relieve unclear consciences and cover up stupidity. (11) 

The narrator as a professional man is proud to know that "... indeterminacy, fluidity, mutability, block- and multi-think are peculiarities of Soviet society ... a society of chameleons" (74).

The first paragraph of Zinovievian quotation sounds to me like a piece of postmodernism, that I dislike and despise, though I understand that is a lot easier to do outside a totalitarian country than inside it. And of course Zinoviev had convictions, and a great amount of courage, for else he wouldn't have written his books in criticism of the Soviet Union.

And the last paragraph of Zinovievian quotation holds also for Western society, and for all the usual trappings of power, bureacracy, corporate institutions, totalitarianism and human corruptability though the styles, pretended aims, publicly aired values, ideological analyses a.s.o. may vary a lot from country to country and from institution to institution.

The short of it is simply this: In all human societies and nearly all human institutions it is safer, better paying, more popular and less difficult to conform or at least seemingly conform to the powers that be. And the vast majorities have always conformed, and indeed most of them had no real choice not to.

In the context of Conformist New Man is here another point:

Historically, the Soviet Man is a new type of man and not necessarily a citizen of the USSR. There have been events where the Soviet Man's inherent traits have surfaced in different epochs and countries throughout history. Conditioned to exist under relatively bad circumstances, constantly expecting situations to worsen, accustomed to subjection to a despotic power, generally such people approve the actions of those in power, denounce the actions of dissidents, disapprove of those who disturb the established behavioral forms, exhibit solidarity with fellow citizens who are sanctioned by those in power, and support their leaders by possessing the standard ideologized consciousness, the feeling of responsibility for their country, and the preparedness to resort to sacrifice. (..) ... The virus of Homosossery is spreading apace over the entire globe. It is the gravest disease that can afflict mankind because it reaches to the very essence of the human being. (199)

"Homosossery" has nothing to do with what the US political correct call "queers" but is an abbreviation of Zinoviev's term "homo sovieticus", that is Conformist New Man. And indeed, Zinoviev is right, and the poison is conformism for pay, pretense so as to seem to belong, collaboration and conformism with the powers that be, whether social or institutional, simply because it is safer and more pleasant and less demanding. In brief:

It is not so much that mankind was or is betrayed by its leaders, incompetent phoneys as they tend do be anywhere at any time, but it is that the human individuals that make up mankind have betrayed themselves, betrayed their own capacities to be creative and seek the truth, so as to be a social success as a phoney and a liar, and for money or power.

And this is the more reprehensible the less totalitarian and dangerous the society or institution one is in and conforms to is.

Also, there is of course - in the tradition of Lenin, Castro and Mao - always this gilding of the profitable pill of individual betrayal for social approval:

To be sure, a Homosos does not exhibit any debasement in man: On the contrary, he is the highest product of civilization. He is superman. He is universal. If need be, he can commit any frightfulness. Where it is possible, he can possess every virtue. There are no secrets which he cannot explain. There are no problems which he cannot solve. He is naive and simple. He is vacuous. He is omniscient and all-pervasive. He is replete with wisdom. ... He is ready for anything and anyone.

Indeed, he is an ordinary man, and takes pride in having given up most of his own balls and brains, in order to be a social success or not being bothered by the police or neighbours for being not quite like everybody else. For more, see the last link and my On a fundamental problem in ethics and morals,

Speaking for and about the Soviet Russians in this context:

Politically, the Soviet Man is an ASS (Agent Sovyetskogo Soyuza - Agent of the Soviet Union). He does not see anything good or bad in it. "It's simply an objective fact," he notes. "A rather sad fact and rather comical fact, but in no way tragic. It's banal rather than anything else" (47). There are so many agents expelled from the Soviet Union today that even the KGB does not remember who they all are. The narrator himself is an ASS.

Note first that "it's banal rather than anything else" in precisely this sense that Hannah Ahrendt perceived in Jerusalem in 1961 (and "banal" means "ordinary")

"The banality of evil: failing to think

Some years ago, reporting the trial of Eichmann in Jerusalem, I spoke of "the banality of evil" and meant with this no theory or doctrine but something quite factual, the phenomenon of evil deeds, committed on a gigantic scale, which could not be traced to any particularity of wickedness, pathology or ideological conviction in the doer, whose only personal distinction was a perhaps extraordinary shallowness. However monstrous the deeds were, the doer was neither monstrous nor demonic, and the only specific characteristic one could detect in his past as well in his behavior during the trial and the preceding police examination was routinely entirely negative: it was not stupidity but a curious, quite authentic inability to think." 

Hanna Arendt quoted from: "The many faces of evil", Ed. A. Oksenberg Rorty, p. 265)

And I note also with some private pleasure, since I wasn't aware of this before, that in one of my satires of the University of Amsterdam I used the same abbreviation of ASS, in a similar sense - and the brief essay, called "Yahooisme & democratie", is mostly in English, was published in the beginning of 1989, and its first English paragraph runs thus:

Human beings are rationalizing animals, ideological apes - or so they would be, if they had not, by the good grace of our dear Lord, a rational soul. It is by means of this rational soul that men find what small measure of happiness is allotted to them, since it enables them to move their attention from solving real problems to indulging in the sweetest of dreams and delusions, thereby greatly contributing to their felicity if not their well-being.

8. The corruptions of society and of men: Zinoviev summarized

We have almost come to the end of Brom's essay, and of my quotation and comments, and have arrived at a summary:

In reviewing Zinoviev's literary work, one may conclude that the author presents the Soviet Man basically in three prototypes - the Ibanskian Man, the Educated Moscovite, and the Exiled Agent - which are corroborated in a multitude of variations. Their common denominator - Homo Sovieticus - is not by any means an enviable species superior to Homo Sapiens, but is rather a grotesque, vain, and absurd walking cadaver.

This is an adequate summary, and the possibly bitter points for Europeans, Americans and Canadians living in 2009 is that Homosos is everywhere, and indeed is mostly

a grotesque, vain, and absurd walking cadaver

as the reader may see on TV, 24 hours a day, and he is also proud of it, although he (or she) calls it by other names, for - so conformist he or she will nicely point out if asked - We Are Normal Ordinary Folks, Who Are Decent And Moral, And Support Our Society And Our Leaders.

And besides, if a litte more than averagely intelligent, they will much like to insist that We All Do It, and those who pretend not to just failed to be Social Successes, so there (and besides, they support Greenpeace by monthly donations, which they couldn't afford if they didn't decently conform: there is morality and caring for you!)

As to Zinoviev on the Soviet Union:

Zinoviev realistically illustrates the Soviet Man's capacity for irreversible submission, enslavement, aggression, and destruction. Communal existence has not produced solidarity and equality, but rather a group egoism which is simply a cover-up for an unmitigated private interest rationalized in terms of the public good. Zinoviev seems to feel that there is no way out of the Communist trap where collective ownership, lethargy, fickleness, and inability are the norms. The ideologized Soviet Man as homo triplex along with his sterile economic, social, political, and cultural milieu represents a dangerous social malaise. The total subordination of his ethics to political calculus and the absence of a critical culture constitute a major threat not only to Soviet development, but also to the security of the international community.

I merely remark here for the record that (1) the same seems to me to the case in the West, for similar human-all-too-human reasons, that may be summarized as Buddha did (reputedly):

Egoism and stupidity are the roots of all vice

and (2) the Decline of the West has vastly accelerated since 9/11 - and I write this on 9/11, but 8 years later, and a lot further down the Western totalitarian road, ostensibly because of The Dangersh of Terrorishm (**) in fact because the ruling castes find it most convenient to use this scam to vastly extend their own powers over their populations, now and in the future: The full trappings of the terrorist state have been laid in the West since 9/11, and as this usually happens, for the ostensibly noblest and most humane of reasons.

In sum and conclusion:

(..) the human spirit and suppress truth, justice, compassion, and love. In the contemporary world where Communism expands, the Soviet Man has become a truly international phenomenon. One feels justified in being concerned about so many peoples of the world who once were raw, but proud; uneducated, yet noble; shy, but righteous; and now seem crippled, shackled by fear, adrift without a moral or spiritual anchor. One has to share Oskar Gruenwald's conclusion, that in the lengthening shadows of an aging twentieth century, people have arrived at a fateful crossroad. Either they will affirm the humanity of the human race and assure the survival and growth of the species commonly known as homo sapiens or they will fritter away their evolutionary chances in a tragic struggle against themselves, their fellow human beings, and nature.

The chances seem to me to be at best 50/50, also because this does not depend on Joe the Plumber and his Folks that constitute Our Democratic Majorities, but on the fairly small minorities everywhere who did get a tolerable education and who do have a brain to think with.

So let me conclude with something I wrote in 1996, when I first created this site:

Finally ... the shortest summary of what this site is about: 

Think rationally! Act reasonably! 
 
(And do not pretend that is easy!)

Dutch readers are referred to Multatuli's IDEE 136:

"The vocation of human beings is ... to become humane."

Maartensz' addition: Few succeed, and few indeed want to succeed:

"Video meliora proboque; deteriora sequor" (Ovid). (*)


P.S. This is where it stands at 14.10 on 9/11/2009 after some hours of writing. Since I have M.E. I leave it here for the moment, and shall upload it in a few minutes, and first take a rest. It may be some corrections are necessary (I hate spellcheckers and never use them) and I may at some point add a few links, but it seems clear enough as is, and should motivate you, if you care at all, to have a look at Zinoviev's "Yawning Heights", that was published in a fine translation in paperback by Random House, and may still be in print, and should be if it isn't.

And here are - repeated from yesterday - some background links, to other files on my site: Swift, De la Boétie, Freigeisterei, Kohlberg, Over Orwell, Burnham en de managers, on role-playing, and on the War Against Terrorism that I wrote in 2005 in Dutch, and still seems wholly adequate: It is and mostly a scam, a hoax, a deception, so as to allow the officials of the State to increase the powers of the State - and this can be demonstrated with blinding obviousness when considering how differently the West reacted from the 1950ies to the 1980ies to the FAR greater dangers the Soviet Union posed then (for the Evil Osama lives somewhere hidden in a cellar in a dungeon in a grotto, and doesn't have an army, a territory, atomic weapons, a secret police, or billions upon billions to spend "on defense", so obviously you and I and everybody else must surrender all our e-mail, privacy, habeas corpus to the police, also to help these noble saviours of mankind under future governments, or freshly democraticaly elected dictators).

But Western intellectuals have betrayed mankind, science, rationality and genuine morality for at least 4 generations since Julien Benda wrote about "The treason of the intellectuals", so I myself fear this postmodern 21st century will be at least as bloody and awful as the 20th century, that was unprecedented in that respect.


Note on the links in this piece: The boldfaced (underlined, as usual) ones are in English, the other links in Dutch. And the links are part and parcel of the argument, me being a logical philosopher.

(*) Translation of  "Presque tous les hommes sont esclaves, par la raison que les Spartiates donnaient de la servitude des Perses, faute de savoir prononcer la syllabe non. Savoir prononcer ce mot et savoir vivre seul sont les deux seuls moyens de conserver sa liberté et son charactère.": "Almost all men are slaves, for the reason the Spartans gave for the enslavement of the Persians, because they don't know how to pronounce the syllable no. To be able to pronounce this word and live by oneself are the two only means to keep one's liberty and character."

Translation of "Video meliora proboque; deteriora sequor": "I see the better and approve of it; I follow the worse". This is the ordinary way of the ordinary human heart, usually because doing the worse pays better, is safer, or is more pleasant.

(**) Written thus, because it struck me (and others) that the speech of prominent American conservatives - Bush Jr., Glenn Beck, Russ Limbaugh - tendsh to shound shlurred, for whatever reashon (the pills they take, or the drinks they say they don't drink).

Maarten Maartensz

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