THE REALITY OF COMMUNISM by Alexander Zinoviev


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A frequent caricature of anticommunist Soviet ÉmigrÉ writers is that they consider the West to be the bastion of civilization and the USSR the home of barbarity--but that pretty much sums up the views of philosopher/novelist Zinoviev (The Yawning Heights, The Radiant Future). Now living in Munich, Zinoviev has turned from literary to what he calls scientific form--actually, one- or two-page discourses--in order to describe communism as an actual system. One of his main themes is that communism is not a system imposed from above--though it does benefit only some people. Rather, it is made possible by ""natural communality,"" an instinct for grouping together for defense and survival. Zinoviev counterposes this communality to civilization, which consists of the artificial mechanisms--morality, law, religion, etc.--that have been devised to protect the individual from communal power. ""Man as we know him,"" he says, ""is a being who has been artificially bred within the framework of civilization from the two-legged communal creature."" Civilization is an effort, communality is the road of least resistance. Communism is a form of historically developed communality, and so Zinoviev sees its roots as the deepest possible ones for society. This allows him to label the communist system normal without thinking it good; in fact, he thinks it detestable. It also opens the door for some peculiar notions that Zinoviev thinks are pretty profound. As he interprets it, civilization is marked by an increase in exploitation of labor--i.e., a decrease in the amount of remuneration received by workers relative to the amount of wealth produced. Workers in communist systems have grown to like their systems because they are less exploited: their remuneration is relatively greater because the system is less productive. The important thing is they like it--it accords with atavistic communality. The social metabolism slows down, Zinoviev says, and results in a tendency for the society to grow only by taking over territory. Thus it is ""no accident"" that the Soviets cannot compete economically--or that they are expansive. He also thinks that the theory of communality explains why reform, when it comes at all, comes from the strata at the top seeking to advance their own position. (From the bottom come only communal impulses toward staganation). Intriguing as a description of Soviet society, less convincing on an abstract level.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1984
Publisher: Schocken