Conversation with Alexander Zinoviev
by Grahame Lock and Francesco Maiolo
Recorded in Nijmegen, the Netherlands
AZ = Alexander Zinoviev
GL = Grahame Lock
FM = Francesco Maiolo
GL: Many political theorists, sociologists, thinkers and even politicians claim that we entered a new
epoch. What kind of new epoch is it?
AZ: All people in the world are somehow in a state of confusion. After the World War II – a great
turning point in human evolution – everything changed. Systems of power, systems of societal
relations, economic systems, ideological systems, and culture changed. What we can do now is
attempting to understand what is the essence of such evolution. It will take many years to work out
positive recommendations that can help everybody – upper class people, middle class people, lower
class people - to understand how to behave in this new situation, that is new mainly due to its
global dimension. We can speak of a beginning of a new epoch. I find our time the most interesting
from the sociological point of view. This is due to its fascinating complications.
GL: Sociologists are also confused, a lot of them are, I suppose.
AZ: Of course, they are! Especially, contemporary sociologists are in a state of confusion.
Sociologists of the old generations have worked out a certain apparatus of notions and statements.
Many of the conceptual tools that they have used to understand reality are no longer adequate to
the purpose of understanding what is going on in the world. Many old sociological theories,
including Marxism or, better Marxism first of all, are simply not able to represent the new worldcondition.
It is necessary to change our mind in this respect. I was lucky enough, as a very young
man, to have rejected Marxism. At that time, after having read Marx’s works, I devoted myself to
Hegel, Toynbee, and Durkheim. Although their theories were interesting, I confuted and rejected all
of them. Most of their notions had already at that time nothing to do with the actual social
circumstances. Especially now they are inadequate. They have nothing to do with contemporary
reality. Reality but not those theories has changed.
GL: Some thinkers, not necessarily sociologists, attempted to understand the changes of the past
fifty-sixty years. They more or less say that there is everywhere micro-power. Between any two
individuals there is a relation of inequality of power. Of course, maybe by accident, there might be
some equilibrium. But normally there are inequalities. According to a certain view, these inequalities
can only be studied on a very small-scale, for example, at the level of the relations between a
professor and the dean or between a student and his teacher, or a wife and her husband. Micropower
relations differ in different local situations. There are millions of these micro-relations. Every
individual enters into tens or hundreds of them in different aspects of his life. As a consequence, we
should revise all of the theories that thought in terms of broad structural relations between ruling
classes and ruled classes. Even the so-called ruling classes are caught up in this set of micro relations.
What do you think of such theories?
AZ: Look, Grahame, the situation in the field of social sciences can be described as it follows. We
have a highly developed culture. We have millions of books, articles, speeches and the like. People
like sociologists, politologists, historians and so on have gotten an excellent education. Their brains
are full of information. Yet to understand reality now it takes to push aside, if not to throw away at
all, this large amount of information. Our brains are like rooms full of furniture, full to an extent
that is impossible to make any movement. Sociologists try to find solutions for the new problems
in a condition in which is practically impossible to move. Traditional sociological notions are like
the furniture that does not allow us to move in the rooms of our own houses. Yet I am convinced
that reality is very simple. The world is a combination of very simple elements. The understanding
of it requires working out very simple notions, categories and ideas. Such a task now requires a new
form of intellectual education. We need first to empty our brains, so to speak, and then to
reorganize the development, distribution and location of our explicative notions and categories. My
sociological theory is what I call a ‘logical’ sociological theory. I have attempted to revise all
traditional sociological notions. I posed again questions like: “What is society?” or “What is power?”
or “What does it mean to govern society?” I have tried to improve the old notions on a logical
basis. This is the method I have developed, used and refined in many years. I can say that everything
is now clear to me. I am sure that my ideas are not useless. Yet my greatest hope is that they might
be useful. On the ground of a traditional sociological education, I am sure that it will be very
difficult, if not impossible, to understand the present epoch. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to
answer questions like: “What is power today?” or “Where is it located?” or “How does it rule
society?” Many times I have discussed this matter with distinguished sociologists but they seem not
to understand my point. For example, my theory on the Soviet Counter-Revolution has been
regarded as a simplification of reality. In my view, this judgment reveals a wrong interpretation
made by people whose brain is like a room full of old furniture! My theory suggested that forces
operating abroad have mainly determined the collapse of Soviet Union. Groups, internationally
organized and comprising millions of people, have led the Soviet Counter-Revolution. I did
certainly not refer to any traditional group, such as a group made by few people. My method leads
to a clear representation. Results in sociology largely depend on the approach of investigation that
GL: Steve Lukes, among others, concentrated his attention on power. What do you think of his
AZ: Lukes, like others, is obviously interested in empirical facts and evidences. Yet all of them use
notions such as ‘effectiveness’, ‘legitimacy’, ‘manipulation’, ‘persuasion’ and so on. This is the usual
vocabulary referring to typical classifications. Again, they do nothing but trying to move inside of
rooms packed with old furniture. Their statements and theories reflect such a cultural habit.
GL: Here in the Netherlands people generally worry about power. It is as if they have in their heads
a kind of democratic ideal. Equality between individual citizens is thus a requirement. Dutch
citizens, on average, worry about power because they believe that all forms of power violate the
principle of equality. So, as soon as one person coerces another person we have a violation of the
equality principle. Their general ideal, it might be said, is a society that has no power.
AZ: We can compare this situation with the situation of the weapon-industry before the
introduction of nuclear weapons. Many kinds of sophisticated weapons had been already invented.
Millions of people have worked hard in the weapon industrial sector so as thousands of
professionals. Yet a rather simple discovery has changed the course of history. The old professionals
became useless. This case shows that there was not such a thing as a power violating the professional
integrity of many individuals. The case is that a previously unknown power, a super power, violated
the traditional power. Actually, what we are accustomed to consider power, either in the
Netherlands or everywhere else, is no longer real power. Traditional powers are forms of underpower
in comparison with the new forms of power that have appeared. The latter are new powers
able to manipulate society indirectly, namely through the manipulation of traditional powers that
are reduced to the rank of mere instrument. This is one of the reasons why the problem of
globalization or of global society is the problem number one today.
GL: How do collective decision-making processes work in a context in which first there are many
people involved and secondly in which many of these people seem not to fully understand the
AZ: It is necessary to logically describe the strategies and tactics of the new powers. The logical
description of the traditional techniques of power has been already done. But the investigation on
the new forms of power seems to be still a taboo. Many scholars refuse to investigate in such a
direction. Let us take ‘manipulation’, a subject on which many investigations have been made. What
we have now to do is to think up all the conceivable means of manipulation so to obtain a
mathematical model able to represent the present state of manipulation and its characters. It used to
be said, and still it is, that it is not good to lie. If we put this truth in its proper context we may
discover that the context is a big lie yet full of true details. How do we make sense of a number of
true details in a context that, as a whole, is a lie? Manipulation techniques are by now perfectly
developed. Take the case of Soviet Union then and Russia now. Millions of people have been
manipulated through traditional means. It was not so difficult for me to study and understand the
characters of those means of manipulation. Many ordinary people did not believe that it all was a
lie simply because they were used to believe that it is not good to lie. The result has been
catastrophic, as we all know. There are many methods concerned with how to cause people to
behave in certain manners. They form the technology of manipulation. This phenomenon has been
analyzed by many through many studies in the past. The trouble is that by now these books appear
even banal. They have lost their capacity to make reality intelligible. This is the case of The Open
Society and Its Enemies by Karl Popper, for instance, that is a book written in a journalistic style by
the way. In its own time such a book played a certain role. Why? Certainly because in those days the
struggle against Nazi and Communist totalitarianism was a priority. Even if written in a journalistic
style, that book played a political and ideological role. Would that kind of analysis good enough to
make the present state of affairs understandable? I definitely do not think so, in spite of the fact
that Popper’s political thinking is now celebrated senselessly.
GL: Using the terminology of those days, many of us, as well as many students of the Political
Sciences faculties, say: “It is good that there is no more totalitarianism” or “What a fortune that
totalitarianism disappeared”. If one argues that there is still power and that people are still
manipulated, those students would probably object that all this takes place in a ‘pluralist’ situation.
So, for example, Pepsi-Cola manipulates us but Coca-Cola does it too. One political party
manipulates us but another one does it too. Manipulation occurs in a pluralist situation and this is
what makes our societies non-totalitarian. What do you think of such a view?
AZ: There are two different problems concerning this question. Usually, Western public opinion
does not perceive any difference between them. On the one hand, there is a technological problem:
how to manipulate people? Let us take the Netherlands where we are now. It is a relatively small
country in comparison with extra-large countries such as Germany, Italy, Britain and France. Well,
even in such a relatively small country there is thousands of micro ruling systems. Each system
involves a number of people and these people are required to act according to the conditions that
sustain the existence of such systems. In some sense, a great degree of professionalism and efficiency
are required. It is know that for an average professionally trained person does not matter so much
whether the regime within which he works is fascist or anti-fascist, communist or anti-communist.
What does matter is the level of professionalism. Consequently, what manipulation from the
technological point of view requires is professionalism. Now I come to the second problem. The
science of manipulation takes the form of a science of the power of some people over other people.
On a parallel basis, the science of manipulation manifests itself as the science of the power of some
people over society as a whole. This constitutes the second problem. In fact, the mere science of
manipulation of people differs from the science of manipulation of society as a whole. The effective
manipulation of society as such involves a number of active persons too. Yet they are of a different
type in comparison with the type of persons involved in the mere manipulation of the people. At
this level, professionalism must be seen in a context that is broader. The trouble is that such a
broader context is largely something obscure. Nowadays, in an increasingly united Europe, we have
to face the combination of several societies forming a whole of more than three hundreds millions
of people. This means that the problem of power has a totally new dimension and consequently
must be analyzed at a very different level, largely unknown to previous generations. We need a new
theoretical approach for a new theory of power over society as a whole. Needless to say, it might
take a very long time before we will be able to develop exhaustive explanatory models.
GL: Where can this type of knowledge be developed and where taught in the actual conditions?
AZ: I am a 76 years old man and my life, since the age of sixteen I devoted to such problem and to
its description. I can say that brilliant ideas are spread in an ocean of books and writings. The real
enterprise would be to logically systematize such materials. Only then we would eventually have a
rather exhaustive theory able to teach people how to cope with this problem. Such a theory has not
developed yet. One of the reasons why this theory does not exist is that it must be logically founded
and today the state of logical education is bad. The logical development of many students is
nowadays very low. In many cases, the logical attitude is primitive. Given the actual circumstances,
only a Logic Revolution could save us! This would in turn lead to a revolution in sociology
eventually. Only then the notion of democracy could be finally revised.
GL: Democrats generally believe in emancipation and they hope that it might further develop. One
picture that people have, perhaps dominant, is that the task of anyone struggling in the political
field on the ‘good’ side is to help to emancipate various groups that suffer for some specific reasons
such as, for example, economic backwardness. Yet, the old Marxist notion of the emancipation of
the working classes, for instance, has been replaced by the notion of the emancipation of any group
that is considered to be in a disadvantageous position. This is the case of women, ethnic minorities,
but also of more specific group like homosexuals, old peoples, children and so on. Once a
disadvantageous category has been identified, the question posed concerns the possible ways to
guarantee emancipation to such category. One of the terms used nowadays to indicate such a task is
‘empowerment’. The idea is that to ‘empower’ certain categories of people. Government policies are
oriented towards the realization of such a goal. Here in the Netherlands, for example, a case of
‘empowerment’ is represented by a specific policy according to which children entitle the parents to
a certain payment of money every three months. This money goes to the mother invariably. One
might conclude that the democratic ideal in Dutch society as well as everywhere else is that all of
the disadvantageous groups would be ‘empowered’ until we reach a situation in which there is
complete equality of power.
AZ: I have tried to calculate the number of different groups in Western contemporary societies and
the number of related problems. I found out that the number of groups and related problems is so
high that it is practically impossible to satisfy the needs of all existing groups. So, for instance, in
order to satisfy the needs of the groups existing in Dutch society, that is, a society of fifteen-sixteen
millions of people, a parallel society of one hundred millions of individuals must be created. These
people should then work at the resolution of the problems of the fifteen-sixteen millions. This is
mathematically demonstrable. The solution to the problems of group interests is theoretically and
practically impossible even when group interests are in a non-conflicting relation with each other.
Mankind tried to overcome all kinds of difficulties. When it failed it faced nothing but a normal
movement of life. Yet it conceived of alternative ways to solve its problems. As far as our epoch is
concerned, I would say that new codes of discipline have been introduced. This new period in
history is not only the ‘Post-communist Age’ but also the ‘Post-Democratic Age’. Democracy is over.
It is the past of mankind. The new codes of discipline constitute the global society. And these new
codes say that people should find by themselves the solution to their problems. In my latest book,
The Global Manhill, I treat this problem. In any case, people will find some solution. The rack of a
system is a solution too. The trouble is that to find a rational solution is impossible. So, one result
is that some problems are neglected or even ignored. For us, being thinkers, the theoretical aspects
of such a state of affairs are particularly interesting. We are interested in how in concrete the world
discipline actually is, and will be, organized. In relation to such a topic, the degree of ignorance is
high. Of course, for ordinary people such a theoretical approach is unacceptable and
incomprehensible. People want a solution for their immediate problems. Let us look at the Pinochet
case. The relatives of the victims of the Pinochet regime, and not only them, see Pinochet as the one
who alone is responsible for the tragic events in Chili. He became the symbol of all Chilian evils.
But in this way Pinochet has become an escaping goat too. Since the main problem is to punish
Pinochet, he must be necessarily found guilty. This conception of guilt is questionable because
unfair. Can Stalin be regarded as the only one responsible for the tragedies in Soviet Union? It
would be a senseless thing to believe.
GL: Some of the people who want Pinochet to be judged - for instance members of Amnesty
International - have made use of an old distinction, already used by Aristotle for instance, between
the power of men and the power of the law. The Western constitutional tradition says that if the
power is in the hands of the law this is a protection against any individual. What is your opinion
AZ: I do not think that it is a real protection. The law must be embodied in certain people. The
power of the law is the power of those who made the law, who knows what the law says and who
put the law into practice. What is the law without people? Everything in our legal, political, and
economical world is people. So, it is senseless to believe in the impersonality of the law and to
believe that such impersonality alone provides protection. People first of all can provide protection.
GL: Let us consider the relation between people and the law in the procedural sense then. In Britain,
one of the five Law Lords - South-African of origin but of British nationality – in charge of the
examination of the position of Mr. Pinochet had married a woman who, by chance, first became a
member of Amnesty International and then considerably helped to prepare the case against
Pinochet. The lawyers of Pinochet made a representation to Mr. Straw, then Home Secretary, to the
effect that that particular membership by the wife of one of the principal judges of an organization
that was acting against Pinochet was legally unfair. The Home Secretary decided that the
circumstance would have not effected the correct course of the procedure. What do you think of
this circumstance? Is it not an odd circumstance?
AZ: Well, in my view the whole case is odd. I doubt that there is proper legitimacy behind.
GL: Some say that although it is true that laws, legal and institutional structures, are made use of by
individuals bearing specific interests, a situation of balance of powers guarantees healthier results, so
to speak. According to such theory, mankind has been able to develop useful instruments of
AZ: This is true. But the whole reality is by the way a balance of different powers and interests. To
say so is to say a banality. Everything comprises a balance of powers. If I let this cup falling down
from this table, the cup will be broken in few seconds. There you see a practical demonstration that
it is always a matter of balance of powers.
GL: The Pinochet case is interesting also because it caused the traditional relation between the
public and the private spheres to change. The case was originally brought under private law in Spain
by the relatives of the victims of the repression in Chile. In Spain they took a writ against a former
head of state. Something must have happened to change the traditional relation between public and
private law. Once upon a time, it would have been unthinkable that a head of state, a Prime
minister or a minister should have been held legally responsible for his actions. The Nuremberg
Trial after the war has been a very exceptional case. Normally, acts committed by members of
governments in their official capacity fall outside of the sphere that is usually tested privately. This
is explained by the fact that the public sphere was, if not all-powerful, very powerful. One cannot,
for example, normally knock on the door of the government and say: “I am unemployed, and it is
your fault because your policies did not work”. Imagine this person asking to a judge for
compensation, say, from the Minister of Economic Affairs for the consequences of the wrong
policies. Now this begins to become possible.
AZ: It is impossible to find a juridical solution for such problems. This is simply because every legal
system of rights is contradictory. The provisions of a legal order can be used in different and even
contradictory ways because interpretation plays always a great role. In any system of rights there can
be similar problems receiving different solutions. This is the reason why, sometimes, legal systems
lack effectiveness. In cases like the one concerning Pinochet, all possible solutions are never entirely
worked out at the legal level. Other levels play a more important role. Consequently, only people
who retain effective power may solve cases like the one we are referring to. They cannot solve the
contradictions of the systems of right though. That is not their task. In the Pinochet case, very few
people have the effective power to decide such a controversial matter. We can be sure that the
solution will be only apparently a legal solution. The effective decisions are indeed taken at levels
other than the legal. Think only on the great attention that is given while deciding on certain
matters to international and national public opinion. The law can only stand by in similar
situations. Most of the people at a certain point do not care anymore about certain controversial
case. This will happen also in the Pinochet case. By contrast, I became interested in it because I
thought it was unfair to treat him as the evil itself. When I was young, I intended to kill Stalin. I
hated him but still I had respect for the state-man. You remember the famous Dreyfuss case. Thanks
to the campaign organized by Zola the story went in a way different from how it could have been.
Thanks to Zola, Dreyfuss could be first released and then rehabilitated. The same can happen in
other circumstances. We should be able to evaluate the situation case by case.
GL: You have mentioned Stalin, whose case is now considered to be a case no longer worth much of
attention. Why is it so according to you?
AZ: Well, I would say it is because of the movement of history. Some problems are no longer
considered actual. What I consider actual is the fact that the new masters of the world order are
after all making use of methods of propaganda and manipulation that are no longer effective or, at
least, that are not so effective as they expect them to be. This is because the very use of those means
is against the current historical developments. International public opinion has already shown that
this is the case. Some still criticize Communism but they do not realize how ridiculous this is. Of
course, one is free to do it now but what is the point? Communism used to be a treat but it is no
longer so. It belongs to the past and most of the people in the world know that a restoration of
Communism is impossible for it is against the movement of history. Who are the real communists
now? And where are they?
GL: Certain political leaders do not make a good impression nowadays. Often political leaders look
and act in silly ways. They sometimes act like clowns. What does this phenomenon suggests?
AZ: It mainly suggests that they are not able to correspond to the expectations of public opinion
and do not keep up to their tasks and promises, even if they think they do it very well. It is a
paradox. In Germany, even Helmut Kohl has been the subject of mockery. For a while, he was
reduced to a caricature. But look at Schroeder and Fischer! In comparison with them Kohl and
Kinkel are real giants! Kohl was adequate to his tasks, especially to that of reunifying Germany.
Kohl was certainly far from being a clown. Politicians like Schroeder and Fischer are simply too
small in comparison with their predecessors.
GL: What you are saying now about German politicians, is it valid for other countries too?
AZ: Surely. Blair, for example, is not adequate. As a politician, Margaret Thatcher was a far better
leader because she was adequate to her tasks and role. She did not simply play a role. She rather
fulfilled all the requirements that that role presented. It was not simply a play. Blair instead gives
the impression he is constantly involved in a game. Also John Major was an adequate politician.
Boris Yeltsin has been absolutely incapable to fulfill the requirements related to his presidential
tasks. It is not a mystery that he acted like an idiot. In the behavior of such political leaders there is
also something maniacal.
GL: Are there reasons, maybe structural reasons, for the emergence of such odd or inadequate
people on the political scene?
AZ: You see, this is a sociological problem. Every small detail concerning the social status of people
who are in power or seek power plays a role. I am tempted to say that there is a lot of stupidity
around. Politicians are often not sober people. The smile on their faces reveals their stupidity. This
stupidity also consists in believing that ordinary people like that smile on their faces. When Chinese
political leaders recently visited Germany, for example, at the very beginning people were skeptical
and they even laughed. It did not take long for the same people to change their mind and
appreciate the seriousness of the Chinese delegation. The time of silly smiles is over. Old
generations of politicians used to be very sober in public. New generations of politicians are not
sober because they ignore what their role requires. At best, their smiles reveal the ability of their own
personal dentists! I know this is a detail, but details are important. The level of seriousness must
correspond to the level of power one holds. In Iran, a lack of seriousness and sobriety by a political
leader might cause his political ruin. That is why Iranian politicians are still so sober and serious,
far more serious than Western politicians.
GL: It can well be the case that such smiles together with other aspects of politicians’ behavior in
public confuse people. In Britain, for example, this is the case.
AZ: Well, I think this might well be the case in Britain but not in Italy, for example. Italy is a very
artistic country, where a certain theatrical tradition has always played an important role. Different
generations of Italian politicians have dealt with such a tradition. It is part of the general context
within which they must act. Italian politicians are able to remain serious when they are not and to
appear non-serious when they are. Their ambiguity does not produce confusion after all. It is not a
coincidence that after the war, Italy has had more governments than legislatures.
GL: What should we then conclude from the fact that many political leaders are like jokers? Is it a
sign of decline or degeneration? Is this a phenomenon that goes beyond the boundaries of politics?
AZ: What I can say here is that such question is symptomatic of more general trends underlying
societal developments. Again, this is only apparently a minor detail.
FM: Again about seriousness and political leadership, as you probably know, in Italy, Mr. D’Alema
is known for his rather negative attitude towards journalists. His discomfort with the Italian media
has often been subject of satirical attack and mockery. He has denounced a certain persistent lack of
seriousness and sobriety by many journalists. What might a circumstance like this suggest? Does the
so-called Forth Power lack the sobriety of the old days?
AZ: In Germany, the irritation of politicians for the treatment they receive by journalists is general
and constant. German media are used to discredit politicians, and if not, to diminish their status
anyway. Everywhere, however, the relation between politics and journalism, or mass media more in
general, is problematic, complex and of crucial importance of course.
FM: Leaving aside the function of control that the media play, does such type of criticism mean
that the dignity once attached to political capacity or service is gone? Is it the mark of a process of
democratization that is moving on?
AZ: I am convinced that it is not the sign of an increased level of democratization in public life. I
would exclude it. In fact, democracy is only a model of governmental organization. From a civic
point of view, democracy is a model of organization of civic relations. But there is nothing more
that can be related to democracy in its proper sense, that is the political sense. The phenomenon we
are now talking about is social. It is rather one of the distinctive features of that set of parallel
processes that we call globalization. In a certain sense, it is the sign that a social revolution is taking
FM: In your Global Manhill, as well as in other works, you claimed that Western society is
totalitarian. In what sense? What do you mean exactly?
AZ: Well, what does totalitarianism mean? This term is absolutely ambiguous. Usually, a totalitarian
system is regarded as the opposite of a democratic system but this is senseless. What is a
dictatorship? It is the opposite of democracy. So, dictatorship is totalitarianism. There is no precise
definition of totalitarianism. But if we use this term to designate the communistic system - every
communistic system is totalitarian - I can show that that all traits of a totalitarian system are present
in Western democratic societies but not in the same form. In short, the most important traits of
totalitarian societies are to be found in a democratic society though in a different form.
FM: Can you give us an example of it?
AZ: As you know, in a communistic society there is state censorship. If you want to publish a book,
it must be first controlled and then the publisher gets the permission to publish it. We are now
considering this situation from the point of view of the result only. So, if you write a book, but this
book does not meet the demands of state ideology, this book is not published and the author does
not have the chance to speak to the public. He even runs the risk of being arrested. Let us consider
democratic societies. Apparently, there is no censorship. You are free to write whatever you want.
The publisher is free to publish that book or not. The publisher has anyway certain opinions. And
if your book does not meet the demands of the publisher ideology, or of society from the
publisher’s point of view, the book won’t be published. Let us imagine instead that your book meets
that demand and gets published, then this book must reach the readers. For this a distribution is
needed, and distributors are said to be free as well. If the book does not meet the demands of the
distributor it won’t be distributed. Eventually, if your book is bad from the point of view of the
booksellers, your book won’t be sold. Every year, in the Western world about one million of new
books appear but it is impossible to know about their existence. Newspapers, magazines, and TV
programs decide which books are going to be presented to the public. So, publicity is fundamental.
They are free to report about your book. As a result many books are ignored. It is as if they do
disappear. The result is the same that we have in a totalitarian system. Think of my first book,
Yawning Heights, it was not published in Soviet Union. That book was published in the West but
soviet specialists wrote reports about it for the Soviet central committee of the Communist Party
and for the KGB. In their reviews they wrote that my book was a slander for Soviet society. So, I was
punished. I agreed with some publishers to write a new book. So I wrote Global Manhill under a
specific request. I got money in advance for that book. I gave the manuscript but some publishers
told me that my book was a slander for Western society and they refused to publish it. The
publisher I was in contact with transferred on my bank account the amount we agreed on but the
book was not published because did not meet the ideological demands of Western public. Think of
bureaucracy. The communistic society is considered highly bureaucratic. When I came to the West, I
made a comparison between communistic and democratic bureaucracies. I realized that in the
Soviet society the 10% of the working people were employed by the state, whereas in the US they
were the 16%. In Germany they were 19%. Bureaucracy was therefore stronger in the West than in
Soviet Union. Think of ideology. Western societies are now regarded as non-ideologically oriented,
but this is simply not true. It is an idiocy. There is such a thing as a Western ideology, even stronger
than the Soviet. In the latter, state ideology existed. In the US there is no state ideology but there is
a strong ideology nevertheless. There everyone must have a religion whatever that is. It is not
important what faith you have but you must have one. If you tell you are atheist, they consider you
as a communist, like a criminal. Now, contemporary Western philosophy is part of ideology too.
Everything written in Western societies about communistic societies is ideological lie. Thousands of
books on communism are nothing but ideological lie. Let us consider the Party system. I can easily
demonstrate that it is very difficult for a new party to come into existence. In US there are only two
parties that count. If one does not belong to any of them, he has practically no chance to become
president. Whether the Republicans win the election, or the Democrats, nothing really changes at
the level of system. In spite of everything, there is something non-democratic in the American
FM: How do you evaluate the fact that in the West the triumph of democracy has been associated
with the radical separation between politics and religion, and also between politics and morality?
Does a secularized or emancipated conception of democracy make sense?
AZ: I think that this has nothing to do with emancipation. It is rather part of a general
development of mankind. Religion and morality lost the status they have had before. They do no
longer play the same role they used to. A new level in the development of mankind has been
reached. We have now super-society, super-state, super-power. Every social phenomenon is limited in
its functions. The state is not all mighty. Morality as well. Of course this does not mean that
Western society is anti-moral. It is impossible to behave always and everywhere according to moral
principles. Let us take a man who always behave in a moral way, he will never be successful in
contemporary societies. It does not mean that he has to behave immorally. Simply there are
principles of conduct that are not moral in essence, and therefore they do not belong to the domain
of morality. You all remember Clinton talking about “moral politics”. Well, “moral politics” is
senseless, in politics you must deceive your enemy.
FM: Does the analysis of political behavior made by Machiavelli remain valid even in the age of
AZ: It remains absolutely valid. Machiavelli is one of the few geniuses in social and political sciences.
If you are a general, you want your troops to defeat the enemy. To reach this goal you must be able
to deceive your enemy. Is this moral or immoral? It is not moral but also not anti-moral. There is
uncertainty here. But certainly there are situations in which moral principles are senseless. The same
goes for democracy. There are situations in which democratic principles do not work. Look at the
behavior of the International Monetary Found. Do they act according to state rules or economical
rules? They help Russia but they demand the continuation of political and economical reforms. As
it is know these reforms might destroy Russia. They act according to the laws of the wolf. Moral
principles are powerless even in the age of human rights.
FM: What about the following case. American democracy is considered the best example of what
Popper called the “open society”. An “open society” is a society based upon the imperative of
protecting fundamental individual rights. Is this not part of what Clinton called “moral politics”?
AZ: I am aware of the fact that this is the way in which millions of people think. Yet, it is typical of
ideological thinking, as well as of ordinary and uneducated thinking, to look at only one side of
complex social phenomena overemphasizing the aspects of that one side. Let us imagine that I am
the President of a country and I want to act morally. According to morality, I must never lie and I
must tell always the truth instead. Let us imagine that we have a high rate of unemployment in our
country. I go on TV and I am asked about the rate of unemployment. Morally, I am obliged to tell
the truth, something like the following: “Dear compatriots, in our society unemployment is
inevitable, it is the consequences of the laws that regulate our economical system, it will increase
and it is impossible to live without it. Poverty is unavoidable. Material inequality is therefore
normal”. If I say such things, guess what happens - I am doomed to lose power. Everyone who wants
to keep his power must say things such as “we shall fight against unemployment and poverty!” or
“we shall win over poverty and unemployment!” On the ground of such statements alone,
politicians can keep their power. Is this moral? Marxist communism had great success because its
leaders had promised a society in which everyone would have received according to his own needs
and in abundance, a society in which everyone is satisfied. Was it morally correct to promise so? No!
Was such a promise anti-moral? No, it was not. What would have happened if those political leaders
had told that classless society is unthinkable? Or that equality is unthinkable and inequality is
inevitable? Or that the state will be never abolished as such? Or that an economical system without
the circulation of money is unable to function? Would those leaders have had any success? Of
GL: It is as if – but mine is just a ‘constatation’ and not an empirical analysis – many matters of
politics were now being dealt with, by the media but also by politicians, as if they were matters of
private law or private morality. So, for example, think of the recent fashion for saying ‘sorry’.
Everybody says ‘sorry’. The Pope says “sorry that we persecuted Galileo”, all ex-imperialist powers
say “sorry that we suppressed you for centuries”. This is the way in which private individuals usually
deal with their matters in everyday life circumstances – like that kind of husband who says to his
wife “I am sorry I have beaten you up last Saturday”. Or in private law, as in the Pinochet case that
we have mentioned earlier. It is as if the matter of Pinochet was a matter of whether he as an
individual carried out certain actions to the detriment of other individuals, and these other
individuals through their families now take private action to a law court. How do you explain such
an ‘ideological privatization’ of politics?
AZ: It is only words and nothing more. It is senseless to apologize for history. We can say that we
are sorry that there are rich people and poor people. It is a pity, no doubt. But can we say that such
material inequality will disappear? For social scientists would be a naïve mistake to say so. In the
world there are more than six billions of individuals and we think of how to organize life on the
planet so that all will be satisfied without hunger and exploitation. It is impossible to achieve such a
goal. It is a lie. The world is full of lies and yet it is impossible to live without lies.
GL: Is such ‘saying sorry’ a kind of lie too?
AZ: Oh, well sorry or not sorry, it is just senseless saying sorry. [The latter] is a component of our
behaviour. I am not sorry for Galileo or for Giordano Bruno! As a social scientist I know that living
morally is a difficult way of life. If I had followed moral principles in my life I would have been
very rich and more successful! The most important actions of my life were inspired by morality.
When I wrote an open letter to Pinochet to explain why I thought the whole case was unjust, I acted
as a moral man. For this letter I do not expect money but rather a blow! Do you understand what I
AZ: Jesus Christ explained very clearly that to act morally is to go to Golgotha. Many people still
prefer to go to the Golgota. Without them mankind would simply not exist! Even progress would
not exist. It is a struggle. Many and many have scarified their lives, their happiness and comforts,
for their moral principles. What is sad today is that few people are willing to sacrifice in the name
of moral principles. In Soviet Union, 20 millions had joined the Communist Party. They had
promised to act morally and even to sacrifice their lives for the Communist cause. It was a matter of
morality. But then they did not keep their promises. None has scarified his life as he promised. So,
experience tells that it is impossible to always follow moral principles. Yet the more people follow
moral principles the better it is for the whole world. It is a social law. Now the number of people
willing to go to Golgotha is very little.
FM: If, as you suggest, the number of people that goes to Golgotha is apparently so small, is this an
accident? Are there particular historical reasons?
AZ: No, it is not an accident. It is one of the consequences of a certain social ideology. Ideology
again plays a role. There is ideology of one man, of a group, of a class, of society, and even of a
civilization. Take Christianity. It is part of the ideology of Western civilization. It played a great role
in it. Like now Islam is the ideology of the Arabic world. Now, from my point of view, mankind is
ideologically disintegrated as well as the Western world. Ideological disintegration has been a great
and very effective weapon against Soviet Union during the Cold War. In Russia now there is
ideological chaos. Global powers, global government, as well as global society, intentionally
supports such an ideological chaos. It is easier to rule! But ideological disintegration is a problem
for the Western world too. There are different kinds of ideology. Religious ideology is of a spiritual
kind. But the masters of Western world force upon the whole mankind an ideology that is not
spiritual, that is not an ideology of higher spiritual values, but rather a materialistic ideology of
egoistic values and practical activity. The latter helped the West to win the struggle against the
Communist block. But now a new epoch came. This new direction of Western ideology damages its
faith. Especially, it damages the European part of the Western world. Ideological pragmatism,
practical and economical, came from America. Also the Pope referred to it.
FM: Many claim that politics as a domain has lost its old prestige and fascination. They say that
politics as such is gradually but inexorably giving up its leading role. Yet a political model, that is,
Liberal democracy is said to be triumphant. As the processes of Globalization clearly show, politics
alone is no longer in charge of steering the events. Are we facing something like a total eclipse of
politics to the advantage of Global Society? Or politics still rules, behind the scene, in the form of
an invisible Global Government, as you seem to suggest?
AZ: All social phenomena are not universal and unlimited. They are subject to limitations in their
validity. Not all problems can be solved by political means. Some problems are solved by
economical means, some others by ideological means – like propaganda. What is politics? What is a
political problem? What are the means that we call political? There are thousands of definitions
available and none seems to be able to give an exact answer. Joseph La Palombara wrote about this
subject many years ago. If we consider the activity of Parliaments, many sociologists have observed
that nowadays Parliaments deal with a great number of non-political problems. Weeks and weeks are
now spent discussing topics such as highways. This is not a political problem, but why is it not?
Today it is impossible to solve such problems without the intervention of political institutions like
Parliaments and Governments. Every day on the roads of Germany circulate 60 millions of cars. It
is impossible to regulate such a movement without the intervention of government. But all this
makes the distinction between political and non-political problems very difficult to be made. So, on
the one hand, we face the bankruptcy of politics. On the other hand, the intentions of politics
changed. Problems such as drugs or tobacco smuggling and immigration were not originally
political problems. The increasing dimension of such phenomena has tuned them into political
problems. To give a definition of a political problems is not only a matter of finding the better
definition from the linguistic point of view, but it amounts to analyze the situation in society, what
kind of problems appear, which one can be solved with and without the intervention of
Parliaments. The same goes for moral problems. Many problems considered morally relevant in the
past are no longer so nowadays. In any case, it is a prejudice to believe that Kant gave the best
solution to the problem of the definition of moral problems with his “categorical imperative”. The
latter can be even considered a stupid imperative! “Do not do to others what you do not want the
others do to you”. As a matter of fact, I could tell you that I do not want to be helped, for example.
I hate to be helped! Does it mean, according to the Kantian imperative, that I must not help
somebody else? It is a great pleasure for me to be helpful! Against Kant’s imperative, I am willing to
help but I do not allow myself to expect the same. “I help you so you must help me”! Well, “must”
it is not a term of morals. Actually, it is impossible to follow Kant’s imperative.
FM: You said in many occasions that one of the main characteristics of Western societies is
creativity. The latter has manifested itself also through technological developments. Authors like
Heidegger, for instance, claimed that technology plays now the role that God has played in the past
centuries in Western societies. Is it not the case that technological complexity has pushed politics to
AZ: Yes, but only to some extent. The limitations of politics have other grounds, much more
relevant than technology. Let us take airports and communication between the ground and the
planes, for example. Politics cannot control the rules involved in the case. In this example
technology puts limits to politics. Life is now so complicated that is impossible to have control of it
by political means alone. I wrote that one of reasons for the collapse of the Soviet regime was the
excessive increase of the questions that demanded political control. Soviet politics was able to have
control of society until when the latter was a non-complex society. In Stalin’s times, the University
of Moscow was divided in several hundreds of departments and sections. One hundred professors
were in charge of the regulation of the educational matters and curricula. In Brezhnev’s times, the
number of departments and sections increased hundred times! Then ten thousands professors were
concerned with the same matters of the past. Stalin could remember by heart the names of the
directors of all big factories. Under Brezhnev, Moscow alone had a number of factories that was five
times more the number of factories that the whole Soviet Union had under Stalin. The Central
Committee of the Communist Party had only 2000 officials and the whole apparatus of the Party
comprised 150.000 officials. Today, the latest merging of big banks in Germany and US has
produced a number of officials that is higher in respect to the number of officials produced by the
Communist Party in Soviet Union. The complexity of contemporary Western society has
determined a substantial enlargement of all political organs but the latter are not effectively able to
master the complexity of society. Today we have to pose the question of what it is like to rule by
political principles. We should try to understand what are the new political principles that enable to
rule society. Take the army as an example to illustrate the paradoxical situation determined by the
attempt to rule contemporary complexity. Very simply, as long as the soldiers’ units are small - let us
say they are made of ten people - one single man can easily direct ten men. If the units are of forty
soldiers instead, it takes four men concerned with their direction. The generals are today unable to
command properly the complexity of military forces. Even generals are unable to rule their soldiers.
Today’s politicians are like these generals indeed. In conclusion, I would say that it is necessary to
work out new principles for ruling. It might be the case that they are non-political principles. The
bankruptcy of politics indicates that we have a new situation in the world, a non-political situation.
This is not strange for politics emerged with the state. Politics is not something ever existing after
all. Stateless primitive societies were not characterized by politics in the sense we usually give to the
terms ‘politics’. The tribes of Attila that came to conquer Rome did it without politics. Communist,
and especially Stalinist, leadership was not political. Certainly politics existed in Soviet Union in so
far as there was a Soviet state. But the latter was entirely subordinated to a non-political power,
namely the Party System. The Central Committee of the party was not the state. In essence, it was
an overall power other than the state properly. The International Monetary Fund is a big power.
Even the US presidency is somehow subject to the sovereignty of such power, that is, a non-political
power properly speaking.
FM: You have referred to the eclipse of the nation-states. Nowadays, the Unification of Europe and
the economical processes of Globalization require the abolishment of traditional state borders. How
do you evaluate such trends?
AZ: Oh well, the case you are presenting is a case that clearly indicates that there are non-political
agents acting behind such processes!
FM: Do you mean that non-political agents are the protagonists of such events to an extent that
traditional state-politics is no longer influential?
AZ: I do not mean to say that traditional politics ceased to exist. Traditional politics remains but
plays a secondary role in comparison with the past.
FM: In your latest book you seem very critical towards such processes of Globalization. Why are
you against it?
AZ: I must say that the purpose of the book is not to criticize Globalization. It is rather to describe
FM: Well, let me ask you then to tell us whether your description is a neutral and totally disinterested
AZ: Oh no! It is impossible to provide a neutral description, at least because of the different reactions
of different people towards certain descriptions. When I tell that today’s economical system is
destroying Russia, people who are profiting of it look upon my descriptions negatively, whereas
people who suffer from it look upon my description positively. That two by two makes four is a
neutral fact in itself. Yet even some progressive mathematicians claim that the result is a matter of
interpretation. It is a contemporary stupidity to say that according to some alternative systems two
by two does not make four!
GL: I would like to take up again a couple of points to which you have previously referred to as to
see what their practical consequences are. We talked about the fact that some present-day politicians
are not adequate to their political tasks. Especially, as you critically suggested, in Germany and in
England. You also suggested that maybe this is not the case in Italy. I would now like to ask you,
more specifically, is it really the case that Italy has a more ‘civilized’ political class, or some were like
this? And if so, would you suggest them not to follow Mr. Blair and Mr. Schroeder, which they have
the temptation to do?
AZ: Political classes are similar in essence but yet characterized by national traits. The Italian
political class reflects the Italian national character, so as the British does, etc. I would not
overestimate the role of political classes however. Their members are never the masters of society.
Politics is limited by society. The political class of a country is part of a wider ruling elite. The
representatives of the political class are not at all alone within this wider ruling elite. The latter
comprises industrials, businessmen, landowners, professionals, university professors, writers, artists,
etc. The existence of a ruling elite is a typically social phenomenon and not political in the narrow
meaning of the term. The ruling elite is expression of the civil society of a country. Contemporary
civil societies are not homogeneous however. Moreover, they are hierarchically structured.
GL: But this explains why, nowadays, politicians are friends with pop musicians, interior designers,
businessmen, etc. They belong to the same sector, isn’t it?
AZ: Yes. To the same ruling sector belong important persons in sport and cinema. Think of how
influential Frank Sinatra has been in the US. Although he was not a politician he was a man of
great power being associated to some criminal circles. He was able, for example, to influence the
American Jazz world. This means that today we deal with new forms of structuring the ruling elite
GL: Mr. Prodi, when he was the Italian Prime Minister, wanted to be invited to the meeting about
the Third Way and New Politics with Mr. Clinton and Mr. Blair. What does such new attitude
shown on the world scene mean according to you?
AZ: Well, it means nothing new in fact. It is an attempt to be accepted within the international or
global elite. Chancellor Schroeder and the Minister of Foreign Affairs Fischer did the same
immediately after the new German government was in office. Recognition at the global level can be
nowadays more important than recognition at the national level. They just want to be members of
the global elite. If a statesman is not accepted at that level the chances to remain in power in his
own country decrease enormously.
GL: Something else now. You have said that it is better for society if people tend to have a moral
outlook on matters of their own personal or social life etc. Yet today there is an ideology – or rather
in the Cold War there was promoted – of material values, which is now dysfunctional for the
Western world. Again in Italy, you might think that there were two principal sources of a nonmaterial
ideology: on the one hand, of course still the Catholic Church; on the other hand, the old
communists, not the leaders so much as the ordinary members. Paradoxically, even though
Communism is a materialist theory of society, many ordinary communists were very idealistic in
Italy. Are these two the main sources of non-material ideology?
AZ: In Russia, idealistic communists have been assassinated immediately after the Revolution. It is
proper to human nature that something, like idealism in this case, must be profitable for a person,
not necessarily in a material sense though. I made my own life experiment from this point of view.
My own way to Golgotha has satisfied me. People around me who knew me, have had respect for
me. For me it has been always more important to gain respect than a career. Whether we refer to
idealistic communists or to religious men, one thing remains sure: their behavior must be a source
of gratification to them. Even Mother Teresa fulfilled her great altruistic tasks consciously
considering the latter as a source of deep gratification. That is what we normally do as humans.
Only animals could pursue noble tasks unconsciously.
GL: Is it possible for somebody like Mr. D’Alema in Italy, a former communist, to become part of
the global political elite?
AZ: Well, yes and no at the same time. I shall use myself as an example. In spite of the fact that I
am not a politician, I have been often invited by various politicians to take part in international
discussions and meetings. Well, am I part of these political circles? Am I part of such an elite? What
I can say with certainty is that such type of elite is a heterogeneous elite. Not only politicians are
part of it. Mother Theresa and even Lady Diana – a very strange personality indeed - have been part
of such elite. So, the phenomenon we are talking about is a genuinely social phenomenon. The
Pope, who in the 1980s gave a great contribution to the collapse of Communism, is a member of
this elite. As a social phenomenon, the latter must be not evaluated from a moral point of view. In
itself it is not bad and not good. It is important in this sense to avoid a subjective value-oriented
type of judgment.
GL: As you know certain forces have an influence on the publication of books and articles. What
these books and articles contain is therefore interpreted by such forces on the ground of their
interests. So, in the case of this interview too, some would say: “You see, Zinoviev said we were right
after all”, or “we are right”, or “we will be right”. The subjective elements then reappear in the
AZ: Sure. Real life is many-sided, very flexible even formless. In this sense, if you try to interpret the
New Testament, for example, Jesus Christ would probably be horrified by the interpretation of his
FM: All you have said suggests that there is one main force, that is, history. And history should be
not looked upon from a moral point of view. Machiavelli and Hegel have said so already. Is
according to your own view on history globalization unavoidable? And are people and movements
opposing it on the ‘wrong’ side?
AZ: Well, what is now going on in the world is not the result of the will of bad people. It is rather
the result of social laws. There are social laws as well as natural laws. It is impossible to avoid social
FM: What do you think of the criticism towards the belief in the existence of social laws made by
Popper? Some of his books became the bible to many neo-liberals, as you know.
AZ: I find Popper’s arguments stupid, absolutely stupid! But I am not surprised about his
popularity. Imagine, for example, that a ‘normal’ or ‘average’ man who has a wife and some
children to take care of urgently needs to find a job because only by working he can take care of his
own family. Imagine now that he has the possibility to chose between two places in which the same
job is offered. The jobs are equal in every respect except for the fact that in place A he will receive
more money than in the place B. What place do you think he will choose? On average, he will
choose to and work in place A. This conclusion corresponds to a social law, even though social laws
are not mechanical. Every law has its own conditions. In my writings there are thousands of
predictions. Predictions of the following kind, very simple: if I put on your shoulders a very heavy
weight you cannot stand up without my help. This is a natural law valid in Holland, in China,
everywhere. So are the social laws. If you really think that what is going on is not depending on
social laws then let us try to stop such processes. Many denounce that the processes of globalization
are dreadful and even morally wrong. It is easy to complain! Why cannot they stop such
phenomenon? It is practically impossible to do it.
FM: Does it mean that people in general, and in this particular case the no-global movements, have
no power on historical processes?
AZ: They do have power but social laws are the laws of the conscious behavior of people and when
the behavior of people takes a certain direction then it is practically impossible to invert the
GL: Maybe it is like this. A pilot of an airplane which has to follow certain corridors can be shot
down if he deviate the left or right, but he still has power on the airplane.
AZ: He is free, as I am! Tonight I am supposed to be back to Munich. I am free to stay with you
here but if I do so I will be punished! I will lose the money of my flight ticket. Take the
International Monetary Found and Russia. Russia is free to refuse its financial help. But if Russia
would do so it will be a disaster. Russia must accept such a so-called help but in fact it is not real
Read excerpts from books
- Introduction - by P.Hanson, M.Kirkwood
- Ideology in the Works of
A.Zinoviev - by Michael Kirkwood
- Alexander Zinoviev's Theory of the Soviet Man - by L.Brom