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Ideology in the Works of A. A. Zinoviev

Michael Kirkwood

It is tempting to begin this chapter with a quotation from Zinoviev's latest book [1] which might well serve as an epigraph: 'Ignore official ideology. Any attention paid to it only strengthens it.'[2] This is a piece of advice which one finds from time to time in Zinoviev's work, expressed less succinctly, but no less adamantly.[3] It is advice which he has not taken himself. Discussions of ideology are to be found in many of his works and he has, indeed, recently written a whole book on the subject.[4] The aim of this chapter is to locate and classify those discussions under a series of headings which will allow us to present Zinoviev's views on the role and importance of ideology in a communist society in a systematic fashion.

Let us begin by deciding how we are to interpret the term 'ideology'. The term is defined in the Soviet Academy Dictionary as a 'system of views, ideas, conceptions (predstavleniya) characterising a particular society, class or political party'.[5] Given the role of ideology in the Soviet system, this is rather a modest, almost self-effacing definition. The Oxford English Dictionary is more forthcoming:

ideology: 1. the science of ideas; the study of the origin and nature of ideas;
2.Ideal or abstract speculation; visionary theorising.
3. A system of ideas concerning phenomena, esp. those of social life; the manner of thinking characteristic of a class or individual.[6]

Ideology as understood by Zinoviev is simultaneously a body of doctrine, a guide to action, and a magnetic field the influence of which it is difficult, if not impossible, to escape.[7] Zinoviev's understanding of the term differs in important respects from the definitions just quoted. Ideology for Zinoviev is not class-based or class-oriented as it is in the Soviet definition. Ideology is specifically not a science as far as he is concerned, hence he would reject out of hand the primary definition offered by the OED. He would, on the other hand, be happy to accept the second OED definition and the first part of the third. His own definition is the following: 'Ideology is a body of ideas which, by intention or result, forms in people a particular type of consciousness adequate for the conditions of their social milieu, a consciousness which approves of some forms of behaviour of people in a given society and condemns others.'[8] It is in Zinoviev's sense that we shall use the term 'ideology' in the rest of this chapter.

Let us first examine ideology as a body of ideas or doctrine. It is as a body of ideas, for instance, that marxism - leninism has attracted most attention. Most people writing on the subject of marxism -leninism are at pains to trace the evolution of Marxism as interpreted by Lenin in his writings, or to establish the extent to which the original theory has to be modified in the light of changing circumstances and events which Marx (and Lenin) could not have foreseen, or to evaluate the contribution to marxist-leninist thought of contemporary ideologues, General Secretaries of the CPSU, leader writers of Party newspapers and journals, etc. There is often of course a great difference between what Zinoviev calls the 'classics' of Marxism and Leninism, i.e. the actual primary texts of these writers and the texts produced for mass consumption. The former constitute the unadulterated 'fountainhead' and are not, themselves, suitable as ideological texts since they are too difficult. Ideological texts, to be successful, have to be easily understood by large masses of people.[9]

Zinoviev is fond of reminding his readers of Lenin's famous remark that, fifty years after Marx's death, only a few people read him and that even fewer understood him properly. He also applies that same remark to Lenin's own writings. However, it should not be inferred from this that Zinoviev has any high regard for the intellectual calibre of Marx's work, or indeed of Lenin's. He often refers to the fact that he spent some eight years studying the works of Karl Marx in an attempt to master the body of his thought."[10] He apparently wrote a notoriously successful dissertation based on the results of his studies which went the rounds in Moscow although it was never published.[11] The conclusion to which he came and which he reiterates frequently and at length, whether in his own name or through the mouths of his characters is that what Marx and Lenin wrote was mere verbiage (slovobludie).[12] From a strictly logical point of view much of their writing, he claims, is utter nonsense. However, the work of the 'classical writers' constitutes the 'best' that Marxist thought has to offer from an intellectual point of view and it is the works of those writers which, Zinoviev asserts, are most studied and criticised by Western scholars. The 'average product', however, the work of the average scholar working in a Soviet department of philosophy, is the best indicator of the true nature of Soviet philosophical writing and Zinoviev asserts that it is abysmally low, degenerate and universally despised within the Soviet Union itself. It is therefore a source of amusement to Zinoviev when he comes across examples of Western scholars solemnly taking the writings of Soviet hack philosophers seriously.[13]

Despite his lack of respect for the intellectual level of the works of the classical writers, Zinoviev does not deny their potency as a source on which ideologists can draw, if the need arises. Indeed, the practice of quoting from the 'classics' is one which he constantly satirises in his novels. What he does deny is that they were ever in any sense a 'blueprint for action'. He has stated on more than one occasion that the Revolution produced the need for an ideology, firstly in order to legitimise the position of the leadership and secondly to mobilise the population and steer it in a particular direction. It so happened that marxism - leninism was handily available. Again it must be remembered that it was not the individual works of Marx and Lenin which were used as ideological texts for mass consumption. In an age of widespread illiteracy and a very low level of general culture, texts written for an educated elite would have been quite useless. It was Stalin who adapted marxism - leninism and reproduced its essentials in a form which made it accessible to the masses of the ordinary population.[14] The crisis which Soviet ideology faces today, according to Zinoviev, stems from the fact that the intellectual level of the doctrine is no longer adequate for a highly educated population whose cultural level is very much higher than it was in the age of Stalin.15 The sole addition to the whole of marxist - leninist thought since the time of Stalin has been the word 'developed' placed in front of the word 'socialism'.

The intellectual level of the doctrine notwithstanding, the doctrine remains essentially unchanged. It continues to preach the gospel of collectivism, the superiority of socialism over capitalism and the inevitability of communism. The virtues of patriotism and internationalism (which increasingly refers to relations between nationalities within the Soviet Union) are extolled, as is the need to defend the socialist motherland against its enemies.


The Soviet claim is that marxism - leninism is superior to any other ideology because it is 'scientific'. It allegedly offers the only true scientific view of the world, since it alone is armed with a theory which accounts for the development of the world to date and predicts the way in which the world is 'inevitably' bound to evolve. If there is one aspect of Soviet ideology which Zinoviev attacks more than any other, it is its claim to be a science. Time and again he demonstrates that this claim is totally false. Sometimes he mounts an attack by discussing the 'language of science' as opposed to the 'language of ideology'. The former is concerned to make things explicit, clear, unambiguous, verifiable, to make statements which are open to challenge and refutation. The latter is concerned with obfuscation. ambiguity, simplification, irrefutability, bias, etc. This is not to deny that an ideology may make use of the language of science, may identify itself with science, may make use of science for its own ends. Zinoviev, indeed, indicates that Soviet ideology does precisely all those things. Nevertheless it is not a science. Scientific texts are by definition texts intended to be read by a relatively small, initiated readership. They cannot be understood by the masses at large. Attempts to 'popularise' scientific discoveries and make them available to the public in a form in which the public will understand them inevitably simplify the nature of those discoveries to the point where there is little in common between the 'popular' accounts of these discoveries and their true scientific nature. It is no coincidence that Soviet ideology goes to great lengths to make the Soviet population aware of what is going on in the scientific world, since it thereby gains in respectability. Zinoviev's realistic, if not cynical, view is that anything the masses can understand is by definition not scientific.'[16]

At other times he attacks official marxist - leninist ideology by discussing the meaning of key concepts such as 'class', 'base', 'superstructure', 'marxist economic relations', 'ownership', 'property', 'productive relations', etc. He subjects them to merciless criticism and demonstrates with enviable ease and clarity the extent to which they collapse when they are examined from a logical point of view. '[17]

But not only is ideology not a science. It is profoundly anti- scientific. Above all he criticises it for the fact that Marxism was an attempt to justify one man's a priori view of a particular society at a particular point in its development. The categories which Marx invented as a means of providing a description of that society are not only not valid for a description of that society, they are totally inapplicable to a society of the Soviet type, i.e. a socialist, post-capitalist society. Soviet ideology uses Marxism not only as a means of stirring up anti-Western feeling, it uses it as a means of concealing from the Soviet public the true nature of the society in which they themselves live.[18] Zinoviev's great claim is that, whereas communism has arrived to all intents and purposes (institutionally there will be little change), the world still awaits the discovery of a scientific theory which will permit an adequate analysis of that society. This, of course, is the precise opposite of the Soviet claim, which is that communism is as yet far off (and seems to get further away the more time passes) whereas it alone is in possession of a truly 'scientific' theory of society.[19]

IDEOLOGY AND RELIGIONv Zinoviev has very recently written a separate book about each of these two subjects,[20] so perhaps one should say now that he is just as concerned to show that ideology is not to be confused with religion as he is to demonstrate that ideology is not a science. Again, his views on this topic are discernible in his early works.[21] Zinoviev is apt to dismiss organised religion out of hand as being, firstly, totally inadequate in this modern scientific age as a source of explanation of natural phenomena. This role is carried out much more efficiently by ideology. Neither Christianity nor Islam nor Buddhism is adequate since none of them has kept pace with the development of modern civilisation. Moreover, as organised religions they are subject to the same kind of problems which affect any mass organisation, i.e. they become subject to the operation of Zinoviev's famous 'social laws'. He is particularly scathing about the Russian Orthodox Church inside the Soviet Union which he regards as a Soviet institution which the State makes use of to demostrate the superiority of the official ideology.

When Zinoviev speaks of religion, therefore, what he has in mind is something private and personal and which has certain prerequisites. These include a feeling of religiosity on the part of an individual, the presence of a 'soul' (dusha), the desire to cherish one's own individuality. A belief in the existence of God is not necessary. We shall say more about Zinoviev's concept of religion below but here we must point up the differences as Zinoviev sees them between ideology and religion as such. Ideology is a matter for the head whereas religion is a matter for the soul. In the case of ideology the question of faith is not crucial. Faith is indispensable for religion. Ideology and religion are very often concerned with the same questions of life, but ideology is in a much stronger position than religion in that it can offer intellectually much more satisfying answers. People, on the other hand, do not need ideology. It is something which is forced on people from outside themselves. The need for religion, however, comes from within the individual. The church in organised religion is a result of a need for religion, unlike an ideological institution which exists to force ideology on people. On the other hand, people are much more likely to accept ideology since otherwise they would find that their path through life would be much more difficult. The public acceptance of ideology and the public demonstration of ideological commitment does not entail a belief in the ideology, although belief is not excluded and obviously there are people who do believe in the ideology. In the context of the Soviet Union ideology is in a much more favourable position than religion since it is much more adequate in relation to its circumstances than religion can ever hope to be.

It is characteristic of Zinoviev that in such unpropitious circumstances he should invent his own religion. There are several references and partial descriptions of it scattered throughout his works but it is described in detail in his new book. Ivan Laptev is the Soviet Union's answer to Jesus Christ. Born in a small provincial town, he realises, or decides, that he is God. He invents a religion which he christens Tvanianstvo', sometimes referring to it as 'Laptism'. It is a religion designed to help people in the Soviet Union who have opted out of the system or who wish to resist the collectivist ethic. It is unlikely to appeal to careerists, or indeed to anyone who is happy with the Soviet system as it is. Like Jesus, Laptev performs miracles, heals the sick and preaches. The parallels are maintained throughout, Laptev's move from Ensk to Moscow echoing Jesus's journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem. Christ's crucifixion in Golgotha is paralleled by Laptev's spiritual death in the Soviet Union. His resurrection has its counterpart in Laptev's reappearance in Ensk, the difference being that whereas later Jesus ascended into Heaven as the Son of God, Laptev reappears in Ensk 'cured' of his belief that he was God. The final twist is that he seems quite happy to face the future as an ordinary Soviet citizen.

Laptev's opposite is the appropriately named 'Antipode' who has many an argument with Laptev about the respective merits of ideology and religion in the Soviet Union. Neither in fact wins, since Anti-pode's 'improved' ideology makes no more headway in the Soviet system than Laptev's idiosyncratic religion. It is clear, however, that ideology suits the vast majority of the population more than religion. As Antipode says:

Your religion demands self-denial, self-discipline, it offers you a steep uphill climb and requires you to make a constant effort to restrain yourself. Ordinary people are not capable of that. People find it easier to swim with the current and to let themselves fall rather than swim against the current and scramble up a mountain. Falling is also a form of flight, that's the whole problem. And the fall is sufficiently long to last a whole lifetime.[22]

Although the book is highly diverting in many respects, there is a serious underlying concern with questions of morality. Laptev's religion contains a body of doctrine designed to help the individual to lead a morally upright existence in an environment which is highly immoral. Laptev's equivalent of the Ten Commandments contains about fifty instructions concerning one's personal conduct which, if carried out faithfully, will allow the individual to achieve that goal. Here are some examples: maintain a sense of your own worth; keep people at a distance; retain an independence in your behaviour; do not be friends with careerists, intriguers, stool-pigeons, slanderers, cowards and other bad people; do not invade anyone's private world (dusha) and do not let anyone invade yours; do not attract attention to yourself; get by without help if you can; do not force your assistance on others. In sum they add up to a powerful armoury for the protection of the individual in a collectivist world. A belief in God is not necessary. What is necessary is an attitude which allows you to behave as though God were watching you. Zinoviev's purpose is to invent a religion which will be adequate for educated people with a high level of general culture living in an advanced technological age.[23] Above all his religion is designed as an antidote to the poison of the official ideology.


Communist ideology produces immoral people. This is an allegation which Zinoviev has made on more than one occasion and his argument runs as follows. Given a large enough number of people living in a society for a sufficient period of time universal 'social laws' come into operation which reduce to the formula 'dog eat dog'. Civilisation can be seen as the history of the invention of constraints which inhibit the operation of these laws. Examples are institutions which we associate with Western democracy: freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, the rule of law, religion, opposition, etc. Under such circumstances a form of moral behaviour develops which Zinoviev terms 'personal morality' or 'morality of the individual'. Ideal communist man, on the other hand, is not a moral creature:

Firstly, Marxism presupposes that man is fully conditioned by the circumstances of his existence and his virtues are deemed to be the product of ideal conditions of life and not of his own free will. Secondly, a person is compelled to be what in theory he should be by the general forces of power, ideology and collective. Thirdly, it is only outwardly that a person is compelled to correspond with the ideal: in practice he is trained in his behaviour by the rules of communality. These last are limited by the collective, by the authorities and by ideology only for the purpose of preserving society which is itself based on communal laws.[24]

It is not a question of deciding who is morally 'superior', a Western citizen or a Soviet citizen. Zinoviev himself argues that what is 'moral' is not necessarily good and what is 'immoral' is not necessarily bad. (Whether one would want to agree with Zinoviev is another matter.) The real question of importance is whether, on the whole, Soviet people think and act differently from non-Soviet people. In some respects they clearly do. In the context of Soviet society people are required to conform explicitly and to demostrate their conformity repeatedly. What they think and say in private may be very different from what they say in public. But does the cynicism which such circumstances breed in many Soviet citizens lead them to the conclusion that 'people are the same everywhere'? Can they conceive of a social system in which Zinoviev's 'social' or 'communal' laws operate with less force, or do they assume that people in the West are likely to be as frequently forced to operate in the 'two-faced' way that many of them are? Zinoviev draws attention repeatedly to the lack of trust between people in the Soviet Union and between the authorities and the population at large:

People don't believe in the moral qualities of their neighbours and place no reliance on them. This in fact is the deepest source of immorality in society.[25]

One of the most striking features of Soviet society is the extent to which people are watched over by others and manifestly not trusted. One example is the practice in Soviet supermarkets of searching every customer's shopping bag after they have paid to ensure that what they have bought tallies with their receipt. Do such practices breed a feeling of contempt for people and the conviction that, since no one is trusted, there is no point in being trustworthy? What happens when Soviet citizens emigrate to the West? Do they retain their 'Sovietness' or do they leave it behind? Zinoviev is in no doubt that a Soviet citizen is doomed to be 'Soviet' for the rest of his life. Homo sovieticus is a whole book on the theme of how Soviet emigres tend to reproduce their own type of society in exile.

Soviet ideology, says Zinoviev, allows Soviet people to behave badly to each other without having to feel guilty. In an environment of shortages of everything which people need a 'merciless struggle' for everything becomes a natural way of life. People will ensure to the best of their ability that no one individual prospers more than another. Back-stabbing, secret denunciation, toadying, bribery, graft, corruption, shoddy workmanship, deception characterise Communist society. Zinoviev does not argue that such vices are not to be found in non-Communist societies, but asserts that in Communist societies they are endemic. Central to his argument is his conviction that the individual in Soviet society is deemed to have no intrinsic worth. For Zinoviev the collectivist structure of Soviet society is so stable because it is so simple. It is a gigantic nesting doll of collectives of similar structure, the individual members of which operate in conditions of mutual dependence. 'Collective' responsibility encourages personal irresponsibility. Despite the oficial ideology which promotes the ideal of a highly dedicated individual devoting all his strength and energy to the building of Communism, demonstration of personal initiative is not appreciated by other members of the collective. Dynamism, energy, a thirst for reform, suggestions for improvement tend to be suffocated.

It is much easier to live according to the tenets of the official ideology than it is to follow Zinoviev's fifty or so 'Commandments'. An ideology which fosters the belief that the interests of the individual must be sacrificed in the interests of the collective allows people with a clear conscience to treat other individuals shabbily. It is thus easy to perform acts which are 'morally good' in terms of the official ideology but 'morally bad' in terms of Zinoviev's 'personal morality'. And Zinoviev is very clear that only the individual who performs a given act knows whether that act is a moral or an immoral act. Only he the individual knows what motivates him to act as he does. What counts, morally, is not the performance or non-performance of an action, but the underlying motives. These are not discernible from an observation of the act as such. Zinoviev goes so far as to claim that such a morality is deeply inimical to the Soviet system and that every effort is made to suppress it:

Morality in my sense comes into conflict with ideological "mor ality" and is persecuted in Communist society as a threat to its very foundations.[26]

His view of ideology in relation to morality is tersely formulated thus:
The whole apparatus of moral education and propaganda aims to teach people to live in an atmosphere of hypocrisy, deceit, coercion, meanness and corruption, and to live according to the laws of communality, which themselves are limited by means devised by communality itself for the purpose of its own self-preservation.[27]


Soviet ideology is not just a body of doctrine. It is also a 'magnetic field' in which people operate as 'charged particles'. They are exposed to a range of models which shape their thought patterns and behaviour, with the result that most Soviet citizens tend to think and behave in the same way. This is a contention which runs through much of Zinoviev's work and receives explicit treatment in The Reality of Communism. Ideology thus has two aspects, the philosophical and the pragmatic:
The philosophical relates to its world view, i.e. its doctrine about the world, society, man, mode of cognition. Its pragmatic aspect concerns the practical issues of rules of thought and behaviour. It is in the second of these that we must look for the key to the understanding of the essential significance of ideology. The practical ideology of a society is an aggregate of special rules and behavioural skills which people apply in situations which are intrinsically important. Knowing this one can predict how the average ideologically-conditioned Communist citizen will behave in such situations.[28]

The extent to which Soviet people undergo ideological training can scarcely be exaggerated. Zinoviev has made the point on more than one occasion that ideology in the Soviet Union plays such an overwhelming role that it is possible to designate Soviet society (Communist society) as an ideological society.[29] Although the foundations of the system were laid before the Second World War, its growth to gigantic proportions happened since the death of Stalin, mainly under Suslov.[30] Indeed, Zinoviev is wont to argue that it has reached proportions hitherto unknown in history and is a positive threat to the rest of mankind. In the context of a totalitarian system in which there is total State ownership of the means of production and distribution, the media, communications networks, the absence of private property and private enterprise, there exists no bulwark against the flood of ideology and no possibility of an opposing ideology gaining ground. Zinoviev does not deny the influence of the 'decadent West' which is exerted via tourism, foreign radio and television broadcasts, Western pop-music, etc., but the situation is not as in Poland, where the Catholic Church represents an alternative 'system' to the official power structure of the Polish State, with its own 'transmission belts', assembly points, 'ideology' in the form of a religious creed which is alien to the official ideology. Not only is there no permitted alternative in the Soviet Union to the official ideology, the amount of time and resources devoted to ideological work is absolutely colossal. Ideological training nowadays begins in the kindergarten. Every child from the age of seven is expected to become an Octobrist. From then until the age of twenty-eight it is likely to be a member of one youth organisation after another, each catering for a particular age-group, each committed to 'educating' its members 'in the spirit of Communism'. Ideological work is built into the foundations of the whole educational system. Each youth organisation has its own rituals, practices, obligations, commitments. Each school subject is taught from a marxist-leninist ideological perspective. Thus all teachers, lecturers, professors are simultaneously ideological workers. The picture is the same in factories, enterprises, research institutes, and especially the armed forces. Then there are agitation brigades, universities of marxism-leninism, higher party schools, not to mention the Union of Soviet Writers and people working in the media generally. According to Zinoviev, if one calculates the cost of ideological work in terms of manpower and resources, the sums are comparable with those spent on national defence.[31]
But it is not just the 'materiel' of ideology which is important.

Ideological activity is no less important. Soviet life is highly ritualised along ideological lines. From a first year Octobrist to the General Secretary of the CPSU people have to demonstrate ideological commitment publicly and often. Everyone must learn by rote a certain amount of the 'doctrine' and be in a position to demonstrate that they have indeed learned it. There are innumerable rituals which take place at school or at the work-place which compel people to take part in ideological meetings, whether it be to discuss the current quarterly plan or to approve the Party line on Nicaragua. There are signs that even this amount of ideological commitment is deemed to be insufficient. Worried by a growing apathy among many young people, especially among those in the less populated centres, the Party has recently called for leisure centres and clubs to become focal points for increased ideological work among young people.[32] People in the West often argue that people in the Soviet Union largely pay lip-service to the ideology and do not believe in it. The assumption is that people are therefore not affected by the ideology and that the ideology is consequently unimportant. Zinoviev has little time for such assumptions. He argues repeatedly that belief is not a requirement of ideology. As long as people apparently accept it, that is sufficient. Public conformity, public acceptance of the Party line is an index of acceptance of the regime, of the legitimacy of the rulers. Moreover, and Zinoviev stresses this, the organising role of ideology and its orientation of people in a particular direction is of immense importance in a Communist state. However, even if the Party were to decree that ideological work should cease tomorrow, that decree would not be carried out since the ideological machine has grown to such an extent that it has escaped human control.33 It is not something which can be removed from Soviet society - it is the main activity of Soviet society.


Since he has lived in the West, Zinoviev's views on ideology in the Soviet Union have not changed. On the other hand, he now argues that the West is equally in the grip of its own ideology and that people in the West are 'processed' no less than they are in the Soviet Union.34 This is a difficult point for a non-Marxist to accept. It is debatable whether there is any such thing as 'Western ideology', but Zinoviev is quite categorical:

Western society is a pluralistic society, chaotic in many respects, in many vitally important respects unsusceptible to central control, with a tendency to anarchy, wilfulness and fragmentation . . . This does not mean that the West is polyideological. . . . Ideological diversity, amorphousness, chaos, disagreement, enmity and other phenomena which point to the absence of an ideology which might be termed "Western ideology" are in fact phenomena within the framework of that very ideology.[35]
I think that Zinoviev is engaging in verbal seight-of-hand in the above passage, but the conclusion he comes to is arresting: Western ideology, like Soviet ideology, is destroying the bulwarks of civilisation built up over centuries which were designed to, and did in fact, constrain the spontaneous forces of people's social environment.[36]

The 'spontaneous forces' are undoubtedly what Zinoviev calls elsewhere 'social laws' or the 'laws of communality'. Examples of negative features of 'Western ideology' quoted by Zinoviev include 'the propagation of sexual depravity', 'the propagation of matrimonial infidelity', 'coercion', 'gangsterism', 'parasitism'. 'Moral values', he says, 'are ridiculed as old-fashioned'.37 At this point one is reminded of Solzhenitsyn. One is also reminded of many people over the age of sixty who were brought up in a very different social atmosphere from that of today and who would agree with Zinoviev. Many people under the age of sixty would also agree with him. Mankind is drifting towards Communism, he argues. It is a state which will last for many centuries. The only hope of averting it is struggle against it:

The struggle against Communism is in the interest of everyone. But because historical circumstances affect people's lives and force various aspects of their life into relatively autonomous compartments, the forces of Communism and the forces of civilisation are in fact actual people and groups of people, different countries and groups of countries. It is only as a result of uninterrupted resistance to Communist pressures (and not thanks to their elimination which is not possible in a living society) that civilisation can be preserved and can continue.[38]
Given his jaundiced (or perhaps clear-eyed?) view of the West, his hopes of a successful resistance must be diminishing.


The constraints of space and the amount which Zinoviev has written about ideology have made it difficult to give an account which is anything more than broadly descriptive. Given the enormous number of books, articles, interviews and broadcasts which Zinoviev has produced over the last five years together with his preference for writing in a rather kaleidoscopic manner, the very location and categorisation of what he has had to say on any particular issue encounter serious problems. At the present stage of Zinoviev scholarship, locating his utterances rather than analysing them is perhaps a necessary first step.
Nevertheless, an assessment of what Zinoviev thinks about the related questions of ideology, religion and morality, however brief, is in order. Much of what he has had to say about morality, and many of his 'Commandments', are in the tradition of Western, Protestant individualism. In that respect much of what he says is an echo of what people like Chaadayev, Belinsky, Kavelin, have said before him. He is a 'Westerner' beyond doubt and would have been reviled utterly by every Slavophil worthy of the name. Much, too, of what he has to say about Marxist doctrine has been noted before, although perhaps in less forthright terms. One only has to think of Karl Popper, John Plamenatz, Sir Isaiah Berlin, Sidney Hook, to go no further. Where Zinoviev breaks new ground, it seems to me, is when he describes and analyses the structure, extent and role of ideology in a Communist society. His descriptions and analyses are not 'scholarly' in the conventional academic sense. They would probably not be accepted by professional journals of sociology and politics. His 'apparatus scholasticus' is not in evidence. His works are innocent of charts and graphs, statistical tables, etc. On the other hand, he offers a plausible account of many aspects of Soviet society which is at least as valuable as the more 'scholarly' accounts available in more conventional academic form. He is prepared to offer a theory which will account for features which most Western commentators describe, namely deficits, poor workmanship, queues, eyewash, low-productivity, etc. While he does not enthuse particularly about the virtues of the 'Russian people', he does not blame the deficiencies which he describes on 'laziness' or 'drunkenness', or Russian history. These deficiencies he sees as deriving to a large extent from the 'practical ideology' which people learn from an early age. He also breaks new ground in the way he treats his topics. It is not enough to say that his approach is academically unconventional. Nor is it enough to say that his approach is wholly artistic. It is true that he brings a vast range of literary styles to bear and mounts a devastating attack on a topic from many different angles. But his devices also include those of the essayist. The result is that he can be scholarly and artistic both simultaneously and consecutively. However, questions of this nature are treated elsewhere in this volume and need not be explored further here. As far as Zinoviev's views on religion are concerned, one or two observations are in order. Zinoviev's views on the irrelevance of organised religion in the Soviet Union when one is speaking about genuine religious feeling contains an echo of Belin-sky's famous remark concerning the Russian's innate atheism:

. . . the Russian speaks the name of God while scratching his posterior . . . The Russian people are deeply atheistic by nature. They still have many superstitions, but not a trace of religious feeling.[39]

The lack of correlation between religious observance and everyday behaviour has also been noted by others, notably Christel Lane.[40] His attempt to provide mankind, especially Communist mankind, with a religion adequate for the late twentieth century is not unique. However, whereas Ninian Smart [41] advocates a religion which is an amalgam of Christianity and Buddhism, Zinoviev offers a religion which is wholly in the Western tradition of the post-Industrial Revolution. Although it contains much which is common to the Christian tradition, it contains 'Commandments' which are quite un-Christian. The exhortations to 'turn the other cheek' or 'love thy neighbour' have no place in his code, which is unashamedly designed for the individual and is not only anti-Communist but also anti-communal.

In sum, Zinoviev's views on ideology and on the relationship between ideology and religion, science, morality and everyday behaviour are captured in various modes of discourse. This allows him a range of perspectives which is much wider than most people have at their disposal. Much, too, of what he has to say is unconventional. What is quite beyond doubt is Zinoviev's serious concern with the matters he discusses and his sense of responsibility as a thinking human being who finds himself in the 'interesting times' in which mankind has to live today.


1.Idi na Golgofu {ING) (Go to Golgotha) (Lausanne: L'Age d'Homme, 1985). 2.Ibid., p. 140. 3.See, for example, VPR, p. 360. 4. See for example, the 'excerpts' from Slanderer's 'book' in YH, ' pp. 207-9, 214-17, 219, 221-3, 228-30, 237, 239-41; ZV, pp. 142-3, 147-9, 152-3, 156-7, 162, 163-5; ZNS, pp. 57, 63^t; RF, pp. 207-10, 247-50; SB, pp. 170-71, 199-202; VPR, pp. 305-6, 312, 316-17, 410-11, 420-21 430-31, 444-5, 448-9, 455, 530-31, 539-40, 544, 546; ZhD, vol. I, pp. 38, 48-9, 54-5, 150-51, 176-7; TRC, pp. 216-39; KKR, pp. 193-212; BI pp. 25-33, 35-43. His new book on the subject of ideology is due to appear in German in August 1986. Professor Zinoviev was kind enough to allow me to have access to his original Russian typescript. Since it had not been published when this chapter was being written, I have left it out of account in this discussion. I would assert, however, that the main thrust of the book does not counter what he has already published, but rather extends and develops what he has said before. 5.Cf. Slovar' sovremennogo russkogo yazyka: AN SSSR M. 1956, p. 47. 6.The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, (OUP, 1973), vol. I, p. 1016. 7.ZhD, vol. I, p. 48. 8.NSNRNB, p. 48 9.TRC, p. 226; KKR, p. 200; Bl, p. 32. 10. See, for instance, the interview 'God na zapade' reproduced in BI, p. 123. 11.TRC, p. 48; KKR, p. 39. 12. See, for instance, his generally searching remarks on the intellectual calibre of Marx, Engels and Lenin in 'O sotsial'nom statuse marksizma', reproduced in BI, pp. 27-8. 13.ZhD, vol. I, p. 42. For a more extensive discussion see his 'O sovetskoy filosofii', reproduced in BI, pp. 35^3. 14.See 'O staline i stalinizme', in MIZ, p. 12. 15. 'Ideology conies to the fore (2)', Soviet Analyst, vol. 12, no 19, 28 September 1983, p. 6. See especially his article Ideologicheskii krizis', in NSNRNB, pp. 90-91. 16.Soviet Analyst, vol. 12, no 18, 14 September 1983, p. 7. See also YH, pp. 207-9; ZV, pp. 142-3; TRC, pp. 227-9. 17.See especially VPR, pp. 444-5, 448-9, 530-31, 539-40. 18.TRC, p. 45; KKR, p. 35. 19.TRC, p. 17; KKR, p. 11. 20.Namely, ING and the book to which reference is made at the end of note 4. 21. See, for example, VPR, pp. 357-62, but also ZNS, pp. 48-9, RF, pp. 63-5; SB, pp. 54-6; MIZ, pp. 31-8; TRC, pp. 222-5; KKR, pp. 197-9. 22.ING, p. 74. 23. He is by no means alone in this venture. See Ninian Smart's attempt to do the same thing in his book Beyond Ideology: Religion and the Future of Western Civilisation (London, 1981). Zinoviev gives an explicit ac count of his own views on religion at some length in Les Cahiers Protestants, April 1980, no 2, pp. 7-15. 24.TRC, p. 236; KKR, p. 209. 25.TRC, p. 238; KKR, p. 210. 26.TRC, p. 236; KKR, p. 209. 27.TRC, p. 237; KKR, p. 210. 28.TRC, p. 231; KKR, p. 204. 29.ZhD, vol. I, p. 38; TRC, p. 216; .07?, p. 193. See also his article 'Ideologicheskoe obshchestvo', in NSNRNB, pp. 79-81. 30.NSNRNB, p. 68. 31.TRC, p. 217; KKR, p. 193. 32.See the leading article in Pravda, 6 January 1986. 33.ZhD, vol. I, pp. 48-9. On the general principle of the uncontrollability of ideology, see YH, p. 198. 34.NSNRNB, p. 49. 35.Ibid., pp. 48-9. 36.Ibid., p. 50. 37.Ibid. 38.TRC, p. 29; KKR, p. 22. 39. Quoted in M. Raeff (ed.), Russian Intellectual History (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1966) p. 256. 40.Cf. C. Lane, Christian Religion in the Soviet Union (London, 1977) p. 74. 41.Smart, Beyond Ideology.


Read excerpts from books
About A.Zinoviev
  • 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