The diaries of Olga Zinovieva: Modus Zinoviev

Specially for the Requiem exhibition “His Golgotha. In the name of Alexander Zinoviev accused…”, RGASPI 

The diaries of Olga Zinovieva

Modus Zinoviev

Diary sketches for The History of the New Man, the memoirs of Olga Zinoviev, currently being prepared for publication at the request of the ZhZL[1] Publishing House. Some fragments have been published by the Avrora almanac (see Issue No. 2, 2012)

*          *         *

I perceive my life as having been purposeful and dramatic ever since the moment of the most amazing encounter that would define my existence for the next half century – the meeting of two people that might never have happened, in which case nothing remotely resembling what one might unhesitatingly call an exceptional destiny, or the History of the New Man – Alexander Zinoviev – would have come to pass. This mind-bogglingly strong cocktail of our destinies had been the result of that first meeting in the building of the Institute of Philosophy of the USSR Academy of Sciences on 1 October 1965 . . .

It is far from easy to reconstruct events that transpired some fifty years ago in one’s memory. Neither of us was given an opportunity for a peaceful, low-key life in one of those quiet villages outside Moscow – for enjoying the beauty and the harmony of the world around us in one of the cottages owned by the academia or the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Our share of events and experiences would suffice for a whole series of historical and mystery novels – the circumstances converged and became interweaved in many intricate and unexpected ways – some of them random, others planned by all manner of individuals and services. It was often difficult to tell friend from foe, colleague f competitor, and loyal protector from insidious traitor.

Alexander was never inclined to let circumstances make decisions for him – he was the living embodiment of history, and the sole author of each and every step and level of his life, excruciatingly hard as it was. He was truly a new type of human being – the type whose primary idea is to live a life without bending under any hardships or doing anything whatsoever that might compromise the self-respect that serves as an integral part of their humanity. He carried his banner of a free citizen with pride and considered himself fortunate to have been born in the country that had managed to make the utopian dream of humankind come true – to have been born after the Great October Socialist revolution, whose 95th anniversary was never celebrated by the Russian society, its usual proclivity for all sorts of dates and commemorations notwithstanding.

*          *         *

Basically, I wasn’t surprised in the least by the article of Viktor Sheynis entitled A Journey to the Town of Chekhov: the Clandestine Archives (see the 13 May 2004 issue of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, NG-Exlibris, as well as about the destruction of archives, including 35 files compiled by the USSR KGB, pertaining to the immense case of Alexander Zinoviev. Those in charge of that organization in the early 1990’s were well aware of just how combustible such materials really were – the documents of the epoch of ubiquitous informants. Many of those who wrote their reports to Big Brother have already expired, but there are quite a few that are very much alive and kicking, rejoicing silently that their obscene deeds have never come to light – destroyed files stay destroyed. However, I am intimately familiar with the archive procedure and well aware of the very reason for the existence of archives, which makes me convinced that even if those documents were indeed destroyed, their copies are still kept in some storage room of the State Archive of the KGB.

*          *         *

At any rate, I am, in a way, a living artefact of those years. I remember them very well – the people, and the stifling atmosphere of our entire philosophical society in the 1970’s, distant as they may seem today. And I will definitely never forget what all of it had cost my Alexander.

*          *         *

Archives keep all sorts of things in their memory, making identities very obvious. They know everything about the liars, the poseurs, the apostates and the filthiest of informants – the kind that report the behaviour of others to any authority willing to bend an ear in order to eschew well-founded suspicions of their own duplicity.

*          *         *

The Institute of Philosophy of the USSR Academy of Sciences is the yellow building in Volkhonka Street, as Vera Vassilyevna Malkova, who was Head of the Personnel Department at the time. When I commenced my career there, I’d had no idea what lay in front of me or what my first day of work in this academic institution would entail due to the sheer carelessness of youth, even though I’d had my share of hardships and wasn’t exactly inexperienced.

My office on the fourth floor, the door with the legend “MESTKOM”[2].

Empty carpeted corridors filled with very solemn and very adult people, most of them well advanced in age. Those aren’t mere humans – they’re whole categories, walking and talking . . .

And on this very first day of my work at the Institute, a young, handsome and incredibly attractive young man burst into my office like a ball lightning – the very image of Lieutenant Lermontov. It was Alexander Alexandrovich[3] Zinoviev, a man of many outstanding qualities.

*          *         *

I often find myself compelled to go back to my very first impressions of meeting the Smirnov couple at a birthday party of one of the logicians at their place, which was in the vicinity of Zvyozdny Boulevard – I came invited by Alexander Alexandrovich. I shall refrain from listing nuances and details to point out the most important thing – the negative, if not outright hostile, attitude towards Zinoviev from the part of the hosts. I couldn’t help it – anything that could affect my future husband, whether directly or indirectly, elicited the most unexpected reactions in my oversensitive woman’s intuition.

As Alexander Alexandrovich was seeing me back home, I felt reluctant to mention the uncanny feeling of unease and worry that I felt. But he asked me about my impression of the evening and the hosts. I tried to give a polite and oblique reply, but he insisted that I should be candid, making it all the more difficult for me by speaking of them in a particularly warm fashion. I was nevertheless obliged to tell him that his warm feelings for them were most likely to be unrequited, and that the Smirnovs actually appeared to harbour a certain deal of resentment towards him. He countered by claiming to be on very good terms with them, personally as well as professionally, and by telling me that they worked together, that he had recommended them for employment in the Department of Logics, that he invited them to contribute to all sorts of collective publications, and so on. I remained convinced of their hostility and told Alexander that he should be ready to unpleasant surprises from their part. He laughed at that and told me I was too young and a poor judge of people.

But I didn’t claim to be a judge of people at all! And yet I really loved him, and was sensitive to the moods of his copious entourage, and oh, how those moods varied. And that sensitivity for nuance and ambience, sensation and perception of Zinoviev by that entourage remained with me. I could not quite forget that feeling of unease and the wish to protect my Alexander, build a barricade around him and keep such people out. Therefore, all the events that unfolded since then confirmed that my worry for Zinoviev was no mere figment of imagination time and time again. Those inner aerials of mine never failed me. Appolinaria Vassilyevna, my husband’s mother, must have been right when she entrusted her most amazing and dearest son Sanyushka[4] to my love and protection during the very last minutes of her life.

*          *         *

Alexander Alexandrovich had related to me a great number of episodes dating from the days of his university studies, some of which dealt with the unfathomably jealous attitude from the part of Oizerman and his loyal disciples Mamardashvili and Ilyenkov. It goes without saying that Alexander habitually crossed the lines of what is perceived as usual in philosophy and philosophers alike. A person with a unique way of thinking, someone who remained charming and attractive in any dispute–people would drift towards him, and he would forgive them their human foibles, but . . . up to a certain point. Whenever it was a matter of principle–whenever the core of his Weltanschauung was involved–he was ruthless and had zero tolerance.

There was this episode involving a History of World Philosophy exam where Alexander answered every question in his exam paper, but Oizerman still intended to give him 4 out of 5. The war veteran asked why he wouldn’t give him 5 out of 5. Oizerman replied that it hardly mattered much, since all of Zinoviev’s other marks were excellent, anyway. At this point, Alexander felt it was a matter of principle, even though he would often disregard unfair and unsubstantiated marks. However, this time he said that he would insist on taking the exam again, this time before a special commission, since his knowledge of the subject wasn’t inferior to Oizerman’s in any way. The commission was gathered, and Alexander received an excellent mark, just as expected . . . This is but one of characteristic episodes of what I call the Bites of the Midgets series–unfortunately, such bites were extremely abundant, likewise the midgets themselves

*          *         *

I remember the events of November 1971 distinctly and in detail – I was in the maternity ward when I received a disquieting note from Alexander about a session of the Department of Logics at the Institute of Philosophy of the USSR Academy of Sciences, which was when his colleagues Smirnov, Pyatnitsyn and Subbotin, as well as a couple of others, first demonstrated their hostility towards him openly, having declined to confirm one of his works on logics for publication – the Logical Physics monograph. They claimed taking an issue with some of the points made by Zinoviev, apparently incapable of understanding them. The jealousy and envy for the scientific success and the growing authority of Zinoviev must have also played their part.

Pyotr Vassilyevich Tavanets, who was Head of the Department of Logics, had a very high opinion of Alexander Alexandrovich, recognizing him as an outstanding logician, the author of brilliant monographs translated into a number of European languages and the founder of an independent school of logics widely famous abroad. He appreciated his erudition and his deep immersion in culture. It was absolutely fascinating to listen to those two prime representatives of the intelligentsia converse about art, architecture, cinema, literature and theatre for hours on end – I dreaded to miss a single word of what they were saying. Our families were friendly and we would often meet at the Central House of Scientists[5]. His talented son Dima, who studied at the Institute of Foreign Languages, often took part in conversations. Dimka[6] felt a particular affinity with Alexander Alexandrovich, he really enjoyed his visits to us when we would listen to Adamo and discuss French art together. Right before his tragic death on the New Year’s Eve of 1967 he tried to come over and talk about something important with Alexander, who had been perceptive to the emotional state of the son of Pyotr Vassilyevich and had some awareness of his problems. However, Dimka was prevented from going by the so-called friends of his parents, so the conversation – candid, apparently necessary and, quite possibly, one that might have saved the young man’s life, never occurred. On that freezing cold December night he committed suicide by defenestration from the kitchen window of their flat in Prospekt Mira…

*          *         *

Pyotr Vassilyevich, being Head of the Department of Logics at the Institute of Philosophy was a man of rare tact and kindness, and he did everything he could to avoid conflicts after everything that had happened. Nevertheless, conflicts would come aplenty – with and without reason.

It was rather obvious that Y. D., Smirnov’s wife, had a very deep and caustic hatred for Zinoviev, which manifested in quite a few of her actions, including those of the most mundane variety. Much of what she did to fan the flame of conflict that would eventually erupt into a total war against Zinoviev may have balked at. The Department of Logics of the Institute of Philosophy of the USSR Academy of Sciences has always been closely associated with the academic staff of the MSU Faculty of Philosophy Chair of Logics, which is where Y. D. had worked – there weren’t all that many Soviet logicians, after all, and they had all constantly been in close communication and collaboration. Therefore, whatever transpired at the Department of Logics was obviously affected by the events at the MSU Faculty of Philosophy, where the Chair of Logic was held by Zinoviev at the time. This position was desired by many, but it definitely wasn’t merely a matter who would and who wouldn’t be Chair! Suffice to recollect a certain A. A. Starchenko, who would, decades later, inexplicably become Chairman of the MSU Council of Veterans of the Great Patriotic War, even though Alexander often said that the only weapon the man knew how to use at the front line was the pen that wrote reports to the “proper authorities.” There was also Voishvillo, and many others . . .

*          *         *

Reports, complaints and all other sorts and varieties of malodorous correspondence were scribbled by the dozen and sent virtually everywhere – the Central Committee of the CPSU Department of Science and Higher Education, the Presidium of the USSR Academy of Sciences, the Rector’s Office of the MSU and the KGB. They all had one thing in common – the person of Alexander Zinoviev and his international renown, publications abroad, contacts with foreign colleagues (including citizens of capitalist countries), numerous students and postgraduates in the USSR, Sweden, the GDR, Cuba, Poland and Bulgaria, all of whom adored Professor Zinoviev – dashing, dazzling and quite unlike the run-of-the mill milquetoast members of the academic milieu. His lectures were enlightening, delivered in a creative and fascinating manner, imbued with the sheer charm of his personality and tempered in his wartime experience, all of which set him quite apart from the rest of the academic staff of both the MSU Chair and the Institute of Philosophy Department of Logics. Students were attracted to him enormously, and he had a rare gift for getting them very deeply involved in his subject and the problems of logic, which would instantly become the focal point of their existence, and they would follow Zinoviev in groups, enthusiastically discussing the issues of polyvalent logic, comprehensive logic, logical physics and so on. He would get them to participate in his own scientific research and make them spend hours and days on end pondering the very problems that he was working on at the moment.

Zinoviev had a stupendous number of publications in peer-reviewed journals and almanacs that were published in other countries but the USSR – and foreign countries were quite beyond the pale back in those days. The very thought of it – Finland, Hungary, Poland, Austria, East and West Germany, Bulgaria, Switzerland, Denmark, Holland and the USA . . . None of those who formed the coterie of the so-called colleagues and comrades could even dream of such success. The only reaction available and conceivable to them was a desire to crush Zinoviev and discredit his enormous popularity and his role in science and education.

*          *         *

Apart from the MSU and the USSR Academy of Sciences, there was also the Voprosy Filosofii journal and the Expert Board of the State Commission for Academic Degrees and Titles, which also valued Professor Zinoviev, whose very participation in any academic event would automatically lend it the highest degree of distinction. All of those philosophical tilt-yards were like communicating vessels, and Zinoviev kept winning his bouts – in a way, he was protected by the Soviet system and the authority that went with his rank. However, he was never known as one to take advantage of the privileges of rank, throwing a bit of a spanner in the works for those who, apart from having academic bones to pick with my husband, were also free from such scruples and eager to take advantage of everything the rank might offer them. Mamardashvili would often say that Zinoviev walked through life on cothurni. The veteran was inexorably honest, fearless, principled and consistent in his every action, never giving any thought to the privilege coveted so much by virtually everybody else.

*          *         *

One thing I absolutely fail to comprehend is how Mamardashvili could stoop to claiming that everything that ever happened to Alexander – his incredible life in general, the war, the arrests, the hunger and the bravery – were a work of fiction. If one follows that kind of logic, one might as well assume that Mamardashvili’s defence of doctoral thesis in Tbilisi, where my husband had played the part of his official opponent and was singularly unimpressed by Chapter 2 of the dissertation under disputation in particular, with its somewhat uncanny resemblance of certain works of Zinoviev, might just as easily turn out to be mere fiction, too.

Mamardashvili has spared no effort to “debunk” Zinoviev among the adherents of his philosophy and turn them against him, voicing all sorts of claims with the aplomb and the authority of a guru whose word is the very incarnation of absolute truth . . . He was also most vitriolic in his attempts to prove Zinoviev’s alleged untrustworthiness to the Western journalists, calling him extremist, enemy of every progressive movement in Soviet philosophy and imputing that Zinoviev had “sold out” the avant-garde of the most vehement fighters against Soviet stagnation (notwithstanding the fact that Zinoviev was the very embodiment of the springtime of Soviet philosophy in the 1950’s remains common knowledge to this day).

*          *         *

One cannot help reflecting that fringe liberals and fringe patriots are very much alike, sadly lacking all originality. Poor old V. Bushin also used to claim that Zinoviev’s biography was figmental in his later years . . .

Another typical representative of this category of “luminaries” is Kurginyan, ever spewing his prime time denunciation diatribes, and once again a favourite of the powers that be – it must be because of the extreme purity of his heart. I invited him to the Zinoviev≡Time≡Forward! exhibition at the MSU Museum of History to explain to him a few basic points of a moral human’s code of ethics in private, but facing a widow appears would probably have been much too intimidating an experience to him.

*          *         *

And what category does B. Kedrov fit into – the one who was so worried about my husband that he did everything to make sure that Zinoviev, the only Soviet delegate invited to a logicians’ symposium in Finland, would not be permitted to go? I remember what he told me when we met: “Olya[7], we fear for the safety of Alexander Alexandrovich – he attracts too much undue attention from the Westerners, and they might provoke something unseemly. I told them (the very nerve!) that Zinoviev cannot go because his daughter is ill. But if you want me to, I can go in his stead and read his paper at the symposium!”.

*          *         *

There were heated discussions among the editorial staff of the Voprosy Filosofii journal – the more intelligent authors took their essays back for further editing the instant they heard Zinoviev mention their “contribution to science”, simultaneously writing “HM” (for “horse manure”) in the margins. On one occasion, Kopnin said that after hearing Zinoviev’s praise he would withdraw his article and work on it some more, just to be on the safe side.

Zinoviev was an inconvenience, what with the pithy ruthlessness of his judgement, and the objectivity of his observations made conservative academicians and their progressive liberal co-authors feel somewhat queasy – the queasiness peaked when Alexander Alexandrovich pointed out the inexcusably large number of references to Leonid Brezhnev, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, on the pages of the journal, recollecting that even in the grimmest of times and in the most troglodyte publications such as Under the Banner of Marxism, usual displays of obsequiousness before Stalin, as regnant in the Kremlin in those days, were of a less rabid and unanimous nature. The liberal editorial staff, intent of pursuing their sacral liberal agenda, disliked Alexander Zinoviev’s escapade. Mamardashvili, whom I will mention in more detail later, expressed his outrage, likewise the entire avant-garde of the sixties generation, eager to dig their way into history in their very own molish manner – Zamoshkin, Grushin and Frolov.

Zinoviev wasn’t interested in those games. He was capable of thinking, speaking, acting and bearing responsibility for his actions on his own, with no regard for the approval of the collective. He made a point of leaving the editorial board of the magazine. Immediately afterwards, his postgraduate researchers encounter hurdles in publishing their essays; Zinoviev’s articles also fail to appear in the next issue . . . “Your postgraduates and their articles are of little importance,” Mamardashvili said during the last time we saw each other before the entrance to the Institute of Philosophy. Right then he was temporarily serving in the capacity of Editor-in-Chief instead of Frolov, who was away on holiday, and, in theory, could publish the articles of Zinoviev’s postgraduate students even if Frolov had objected – he called himself a “friend”, after all. “What’s important is that all of it gets in the way of our common work.” The collective defence against the detonator of minds, the implacable and relentless Zinoviev, a lone wayfarer who goes too far, started to come into play.

*          *         *

Apart from the progressive wing, there was an enormous herd of old school mastodons such as Konstantinov, Mitin, Kammari, Stepanyan, Yudin, Iovchuk, Modrzhinskaya, Oizerman et al . . . Not to mention the ever-vigilant comrades from the ideological departments of the Central Committee of the CPSU under the wing of the most vigilant of them all, Suslov, the CPSU’s Secretary of Ideology.

That was a period of amazing unity – camaraderie across ideological borders, if you will – when the ululating crowd of progressive conservatives (or conservative progressives) finally joined forces with the despised mastodons and agreed to name their victim together, someone who’d been getting in their way for years, professionally as well as personally, preventing them from perceiving themselves as the cream of the crop. This is how the machine of punitive public opinion came into action, its fires burning just as brightly as in the halcyon days of the Holy Inquisition, when the guilt of a victim once found required no proof. Such academic publishing houses as Nauka and Mysl also joined this fiery fray.

Political departments of every sort suddenly went into frenzied action. Everything that’s ever been said by Alexander Zinoviev now attained a special meaning, and suddenly nothing was coincidental anymore, be it his uncompromising position on the suppression of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, or the letters of protest signed in this respect by Yuri Gastev and Viktor Finn; the world map of “non-voyages abroad of Professor Zinoviev,” his mocking, consequences-be-damned remarks concerning the masterpiece of ideologically flavoured pseudo-historical literature of the Soviet Union, Brezhnev’s “Malaya Zemlya[8],” his brilliant caricatures of Brezhnev made when the latter was still very much alive, or any of a multitude of other things . . .

Most importantly, the “victim” refused to hide or save himself by assuming the stance of nonconformist (but not unforgivably heretical) liberalism. The “victim” kept going forward with his visor raised, knowing no other way of behaving but being vocal and fearless, his only wish being to have enough time to make a point, as unequivocal as it was final.

Most unfortunately for the milieu of logicians and philosophers, Professor Alexander Zinoview was elected a member of the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters for nothing else but his personal contribution to world science and the foundation of the exceptional Soviet school of logics . . .

The logical conclusion of this process was the foundation of a special commission in 1976 whose sole purpose was the defamation of my husband’s body of scientific work and the disavowal of his trailblazing, Lomonosovian position in science, a commission gladly joined by Oizerman, V. Semyonov and E. Ilyenkov. The commission’s findings were in line with the mood and the expectations of the outraged public, no longer able to withstand the phenomenon of Alexander Zinoviev and trying to undermine what they called Zinoviev’s personality cult. Indeed – apart from making a name for himself as a scientist of the highest calibre, he also had the unmitigated audacity to write the Yawning Heights, which became a bestseller! All the accumulated grievances, affronts and inferiority complexes of the mediocre finally burst out. There was a buzz on every landing in the buildings of the Institute of Philosophy and the Institute of Economics, the juicy details were savoured by everyone in the Presidium of the Academy of Sciences, all sorts of tall tales were spread by gossipers with burning eyes and reddened cheeks, eager to tell the world absolutely everything! Most importantly, this was the perfect time to make a public denunciations of any ties to the horrendous figure of Alexander Zinoviev.

Everybody did their worst. Some persecuted Asya[9] Fedina, Zinoviev’s postgraduate student who remained independent, others removed all references to Zinoviev from bibliographies to their publications, others still hastily copied whole passages of Zinoviev’s books claiming them to be a product of their very own intellects. There were even those who would dash to the other side of the road disregarding the traffic to avoid meeting Alexander or yours truly face to face – God forbid!

Apart from the KGB in their righteous indignation, nobody cared to wonder why Zinoviev would write such a book. What was his reason, what served as a catalyst? What circumstances exactly could have led to his loss of the Chair of Logics at the MSU? Why were there objections to the publications of his own articles and those of his postgraduate students, openly urged to find another research advisor? What was the atmosphere in the academic circles pertaining to Soviet philosophy and logics?

The answers are all too obvious, likewise the identities of those responsible for the persecution of Alexander Zinoviev, those who made sure his works were withdrawn from all Soviet libraries in the 1970’s and later, those who keep pretending that this outstanding Russian genius was never a part of the global scientific community. I have named some of them, but there are unnamed “heroes” aplenty, all of them logicians, philosophers and sociologists. They are the very “circumstances” collectively responsible for dismembering a school of thought that had acted as a point of growth for Soviet science in particular and world science in general. They are the “judges” who voted against electing Alexander Zinoviev into the USSR Academy of Sciences (and later the Russian Academy of Sciences as well), the very ones who voiced their hypocritical support and pledged their selfless support, casting their vote against him each and every time. The non-receipt of the State Award by Zinoviev followed exactly the same scenario.

Indeed, a great number of curious things came to pass in the scientific domain of the Soviet Union and, later on, that of the modern Russia, galvanized by Alexander Zinoviev.

*          *         *

The smear campaign against the greatest logician of our age culminated in the shameful session of the Department of Logics of the Institute of Philosophy of the Russian Academy of Sciences that took place on 19 January 1977. Formally, its purpose was to ascertain the qualifications of Professor Alexander Alexandrovich Zinoviev, Doctor of Philosophy and the star of Soviet logics, as well as his professional capacity. He created that very department together with Tavanets, it was staffed by his colleagues and students, but this very department did everything it could to prevent Zinoviev from getting tenure extension. According to the minutes of the session (as well as my husband’s work record book), he was “removed from the position due to failure to qualify for tenure extension as per Directive No. 24 as of 19 January 1977. However, the very same work record book, a copy of which is exhibited at the Zinoviev Hall of the RAS Institute of Philosophy, contains numerous vivid accounts of his many awards and publications, as well as his contribution to science . . . Interestingly enough, Zinoviev’s position had already been offered to Pyatnitsyn, a rather obscure logician, a long time before the session of the Department and the voting took place.

As we found out later from our sympathisers, this entire rampage was orchestrated by the Smirnov couple, who managed to seize control of both the staff of the Chair of Logics at the MSU Faculty of Philosophy (Zinoviev was no longer Chair and his Professor’s tenure was terminated) and the Department of Logics of the Institute of Philosophy of the USSR Academy of Sciences (P. V. Tavanets never managed to recover from the tragic death of his son and de facto withdrew from affairs, with vocal and taciturn support of many other members of the staff of both institution.

Anastasia Fedina, a postgraduate student of Alexander Alexandrovich, was the only one to oppose the campaign openly. She could have had a brilliant career as a logician, since by that time she had already published enough works abroad with Zinoview as an advisor to make an international reputation for herself. The campaign didn’t only target Zinoviev – his school, his students and his followers were being destroyed as well. The enlightened and independent spirit of Alexander Zinoviev was deemed to have no place in Soviet (and later Russian) science.

Therefore, what Karpenko, the current Head of the Department of Logics of the RAS Institute of Philosophy wrote in the questionnaire for the book “A Collective Portrait of A. A. Zinoviev” (published to commemorate his 90th anniversary by Kanon+) about Zinoviev having no school and no disciples, for some reason, is an ill-befitting and faint-hearted attempt to substitute consequence for reason. Karpenko is well aware of the events that transpired in the history of Soviet logic during the 1960’s and the 1970’s, and he knows more than anyone about the hate campaign against Zinoviev’s school and the reason it is particularly hard to revive today.

It is imprudent to blame every unseemly part of our history on the KGB – the professional milieu, or the philosophical community, proved its excellent ability to serve as a voluntary penitentiary organ by attempting to eradicate both the person and the intellectual tradition of Alexander Zinoviev.

*          *         *

I shall have to name another person to play a disreputable part. Alexander told me about his return from the war in the rank of the First Lieutenant of the Soviet Air Force with the suitcase of manuscripts that I have mentioned earlier. He showed them to two writers. One of them, Konstantin Simonov, may he rest in peace, expressed a very favourable opinion of the young officer’s literary talent, but recommended him to burn the manuscripts since it would be mortally dangerous to have one’s name associated with something of that sort. He asked Alexander whether he had showed the manuscripts to anybody else, and Alexander named the second writer, Vassily Ilyenkov, the father of Evald Ilyenkov. When Simonov heard that name, he went pale and cried: “Boy, run off and get that manuscript back, even if you have to pry it out of his hands!” Simonov was well aware of what would happen next, and happen it did. Zinoviev did, however, manage to get inside the writer’s flat and take the manuscript back from his desk, then dash back home and burn it. When the NKVD came over the very same evening, there wasn’t a single page in sight, even though they were deliberately searching for a manuscript of wartime impressions . . .

What a tragic roundabout of names this is, what a convoluted chain of events. Vassily Ilyenkov managed to report Alexander to the NKVD whereas his son Evald Ilyenkov, another veteran, became a member of the Zinoviev Defamation Commission in 1976, only to commit suicide in December of the very same year.

The thirty years that followed the war were marked by constant vigilance of the powers that be over this amazing man, a true hero and a fearless champion of the truth, but there were so many more to do all they could to make his incredible life as miserable as possible. Some would hypocritically claim they wanted to save Zinoviev from himself. Some tried to destroy the Mozartian genius of a contemporary. Some would simply take advantage of my husband’s generosity and parasite on his talent, picking up any crumbs they could get. Some would come to our home to repent for what they did, smearing tears over the stubble.

The Promethean figure of Zinoviev, a thinker and a prophet, the pride of true science that knows no state borders or political parties, was born too early, came into awareness too early, and managed to understand everything he could and proclaim it far and wide unforgivably early, too. And yet he did attain self-realisation for every facet of his talent as a citizen of a unique country that tried to build a better future for all humanity using the most ambivalent human material there was – the Homo Soveticus.

*          *         *

Fortunately, there were thoroughly ethical people in his life and in our life as well, those who had a conscience as well as awareness of everything that had transpired. But this handful of amazing people would hardly be justified to storm the barricades. They had lives of their own to live and choices of their own to make, and that is how it should be. The awareness that we didn’t exist in a void (especially after the publication of the Yawning Heights in 1976) and that one’s circle of true friends remains an essential part of human life was Alexander’s main solace back then. We were regularly visited by Zhenya[10] Nikitin, Boris Dragun, Lyusya[11] Savelyeva, our Asya, Vera Vassilyevna Malkova, Izolda Shchedrovitskaya, Klara Kim, Inna Fialkova, Karl Kantor, Natasha[12] Osmakova, Dima Khanov, Garik Yakovlev, Valentin Marakhotin, Raissa Lert, Igor Sharygin, Pyotr Egides, Tamara Samsonova, Natalya Stolyarova, Vladimir Sychov and Aida Sychova, Sofya Kallistratova, Venichka[13] Yerofeyev, Vadim Kosmachyov, Sergey Esayan, Sergey Orekhov, Dima Orlov, Andrey Golitsyn, Yevgeniy Ambartsumov . . . And, of course, our children, brothers, sisters and nephews who kept fearlessly visiting our unquiet home at 13 Kedrov Street, Building 1, with little regard for consequences, remaining ethical human beings to the last. They had enough to suffer while we were still there, and there would be worse to come after our “voluntary” departure on 6 August 1978. I THANK YOU FROM THE VERY DEPTHS OF MY HEART AND SOUL!

Our meeting with Nadezhda Mandelstam was amazingly touching. She was waiting for Zinoviev to come over clutching a copy of the Yawning Heights. When we arrived and she saw be behind Alexander’s back, she said, “So that’s it! I knew a loving woman must be involved!” By that time we had already read her memoirs, as well as those of a plethora of interesting people. But her memoirs are the ones that fill me with awe to this day, and it was especially true back then – the very power of love, the urbanity and the ability to keep the distance by removing the author from the memoirs of her husband. She wrote objectively and exhaustively, and with the utmost modesty, without so much as a hint of narcissism. And yet my impression of her is that of the heroine of those memoirs. They are an astonishingly written book about what she experienced without a hint of fiction, solemn and sad. Her “woman’s memoirs” are the epitome of intellect and taste, and a gem of a genre that is the furthest thing from easy.

And there were the unexpected “support envelopes” that we got from Pyotr Kapitsa, also elected into the very same Finnish Academy of Science and Letters in the very same year of 1974 . . .

Sometimes the door to our flat would open to let one visitor out and another one in. Asya asked me once about the slightly vacant expression that I would get every time a guest would come. I replied that those were the very moments when I would try to catalogue the contents of our refrigerator, empty as if we lived in the 1920’s, and think of what could be cooked from those meager ingredients. For instance, a few onions and a piece of cheese could see us through a large portion of spaghetti, enough for everyone.

*          *         *

The period of horrendous emptiness between late August of 1976 and February 1977 remains an excruciating memory – visitors were few and far between, the phone went dead and was then cut off altogether. The Western media were thrilled by the new genius of the Russian literature, there were hundreds of programmes, publications, articles and so on. Back home there was nothing but a complete information quarantine, a media vacuum, fear in the eyes of former colleagues and worn-out admonitions such as “have you thought of your child at all?”

And then there was the constant observation by the KGB, agents near our block of flats and right outside the door, on the staircase, and all sorts of provocations such as letters and summons to such organizations as the Sevastopolsky District Executive Committee[14], which I visited once on a non-visiting day on a summons issued to my husband – in his stead and accompanied by my daughter Polina. I remember the ringing emptiness of the building and the frozen masks of horror on the faces of the staff when I asked for their head honcho Shchelkunov using just his surname and not the respectful name and patronymic combination. The functionary that met us from across the barricade of an enormous desk stared at me in a flabbergasted way, since he didn’t expect me and Polina instead of Alexander Zinoviev.

                 Good afternoon, you’ve sent us an invitation (this was answered with a silent nod). I think I might as well sit down, since you don’t seem to be offering me a seat.

                 But I was expecting your husband.

                 He’s busy.

                 Busy doing what exactly? He’s unemployed, isn’t he? (sarcastically)

                 Oh no, he’s got a lot to do. Books, articles . . .

                 So where does he work, then?

                 At home.

                 You realise that he’s an idler[15] according to the Soviet legislation?

                 Is he, now? He’s a veteran of the Great Patriotic War, he’s worked at the MSU and the Academy of Sciences for 27 years, and now he’s an idler?

        Well, he isn’t registered anywhere officially. And in the Soviet Union everyone must work. I’ve got an interesting employment offer here – he’s welcome to the position of a lab assistant in Novosibirsk.

        I’m afraid he may not budge it, being a mere  Academician, Doctor and Professor . . .

        He’s been stripped of all his titles!

        But not his knowledge or his international renown.

        All right, but why are you mothering him like this? He’s got his own scores to settle, and you’re a young woman. He can do whatever he likes, and we (the executive committee of the district or the city? The government? The Communist Party?) can help you with your postgraduate studies, and we can find a good kindergarten for your daughter, too. You might as well leave – he’s much older than you, after all.

        How would you like your wife to receive an offer like that?

        My wife would never find herself in your position!

        That much is true, at least.

        Well, for the meantime we still talk to you. Later on you’ll beg us to receive you! You will crawl to us begging!

        Au contraire – you shall be begging us. Good afternoon. (There was an incoherent and outraged response that drowned in spittle. It was easy enough to understand the poor devil – he had failed his superiors).

*          *         *

There were many similar encounters with officials of all ranks and sorts, but they all followed the same model of behaviour, cast from the very same mould. The only difference was the legend on the doors of their offices.

Such was our latest contact with the authorities in the Soviet Union – it was a visit to the Visa and Registration Department, also on a non-visiting day. It was a Wednesday in late July of 1978, and the office of their chief executive by the name of Ivanov was in Kolpachny Street (by an amazing coincidence, the head of the same department that I approached with some papers upon our repatriation in 1999 had the very same surname – I wonder if it’s an attribute of rank and if his real name was in fact different?)  A large number of people came to see us off – they stayed outside, prepared for any provocation, such as a Black Maria that could take us anywhere at all.

        Good afternoon. Please receive the documents required to leave to the Federative Republic of Germany before the 6th of August.

        What if we’re reluctant to leave?

        Then you can travel in any other direction for free, East or North. Separately, stripped of parental rights, and your daughter will go to a distant orphanage under a different name.

        Why the hurry? (Later we realized just why the deadline was 6 August 1978 – one may gather as much from the official records of the Soviet government’s actions).

        I’m afraid you’ll cripple all our staff if you stay any longer.

*          *         *

That was a very explicit reference to an episode that transpired earlier, right outside the door to our very dwelling, when I used a four-pound brass pestle to defend Alexander from a bravo who pretended to be drunk. He tried to strangle my husband, who was returning from a meeting with foreign journalists, and, instead of cracking his skull (I realized that I would invariably get charged with attempted murder), I hit him on his right shoulder the full power of hatred for the scum that attacked my husband. There was a cracking sound of a fracture, and the “drunk’s” arm hung limp. He let my husband go, turned over to me, and said in a sober voice: “Well, I’ll be! Well, I’ll be!” Then he turned and headed downstairs to meet his colleagues.

*          *         *

Alexander Alexandrovich had related to me a great number of episodes dating from the days of his university studies, some of which dealt with the unfathomably jealous attitude from the part of Oizerman and his loyal disciples Mamardashvili and Ilyenkov. It goes without saying that Alexander habitually crossed the lines of what is perceived as usual in philosophy and philosophers alike. A person with a unique way of thinking, someone who remained charming and attractive in any dispute – people would drift towards him, and he would forgive them their human foibles, but . . . up to a certain point. Whenever it was a matter of principle – whenever the core of his Weltanschauung was involved – he was ruthless and had zero tolerance.

There was this episode involving a History of World Philosophy exam where Alexander answered every question in his exam paper, but Oizerman still intended to give him 4 out of 5. The war veteran asked why he wouldn’t give him 5 out of 5. Oizerman replied that it hardly mattered much, since all of Zinoviev’s other marks were excellent, anyway. At this point, Alexander felt it was a matter of principle, even though he would often disregard unfair and unsubstantiated marks. However, this time he said that he would insist on taking the exam again, this time before a special commission, since his knowledge of the subject wasn’t inferior to Oizerman’s in any way. The commission was gathered, and Alexander received an excellent mark, just as expected . . . This is but one of characteristic episodes of what I call the Bites of the Midgets series – unfortunately, such bites were extremely abundant, likewise the midgets themselves.


[1] ЖЗЛ, a Russian publishing house specialising in biographies (Zhizn Zamechatelnykh Lyudei, literally “The Life of Remarkable People”).


[2] An abbreviation of “mestniy komitet,” literally “local committee”, the lowest structural organisation body of the Soviet labour unions.


[3] The author makes wide use of Russian patronymics to convey a respectful tone, and it has been deemed prudent to leave those intact in translation.


[4] An affectionate form of the name Alexander.


[5] A social club, exhibition hall and concert venue in Moscow, ostensibly catering to the social and cultural needs of the members of the Soviet (and later Russian) academia.


[6] Dima and Dimka are affectionate forms of the name Dmitriy.


[7] An affectionate form of the name Olga.


[8] The first volume in the “autobiographical” trilogy of Leonid Brezhnev, widely agreed to be ghostwritten and “overhyping his participation in the Eastern front” (see


[9] An affectionate form of the name Anastasia


[10] Affectionate form of the name Yevgeniy


[11] Affectionate form of the name Lyudmila


[12] Affectionate form of the name Natalya


[13] Affectionate form of the name Venedikt


[14] Soviet equivalent of the local council.


[15] Not registered as an official employee of any organisation – a criminal offence in the Soviet Union.