Homo Sovieticus

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Homo Sovieticus (Dog Latin for "Soviet Man") is a sarcastic and critical reference to the average person in the Soviet Union, also observed in other countries of the Eastern Bloc The term was popularized by Soviet writer and sociologist Aleksandr Zinovyev, who wrote the book titled Homo Sovieticus.[1] A similar term in Russian slang is sovok (совок, plural: sovki, совки), which is derived from "Soviet" (literally means "scoop (tool)").

Michel Heller claimed [2] that the term was coined in the introduction of a 1974 monograph "Sovetskye lyudi" ("Soviet People") to describe the next level of evolution of humanity thanks to the success of Marxist social experiment.

In a book published in 1981, but available in samizdat in the 1970s, Zinovyev also coined an abbreviation homosos (гомосос).[3]


The idea that the Soviet system would create a new, better kind of Soviet people was first postulated by the advocates of the system; they called it the "New Soviet man". Homo Sovieticus, however, was a term with negative connotations, invented by opponents to describe what they said was the real result of Soviet policies. In many ways it meant the opposite of the New Soviet man, someone characterized by the following:

  • Indifference to the results of his labour (as expressed in the saying "They pretend they are paying us, and we pretend we are working").
  • Lack of initiative and avoidance of taking any individual responsibility for anything. Jerzy Turowicz wrote "it's a person enslaved, incapacitated, deprived of initiative, unable to think critically; he expects - and demands - everything to be provided by the state, he cannot and doesn't want to take his fate in his own hands".[4]
  • Indifference to common property and petty theft from the workplace, both for personal use and for profit.[5] A line from a popular song, "Everything belongs to the kolkhoz, everything belongs to me" ("всё теперь колхозное, всё теперь моё" / vsyo teperь kolkhoznoe, vsyo teperь moyo), meaning that people on collective farms treasured all common property as their own, was sometimes used ironically to refer to instances of petty theft.
  • The Soviet Union's restrictions on travel abroad and strict censorship of information in the media (as well as the abundance of propaganda) was with the intent to insulate the Soviet people from Western influence. There existed non-public "ban lists" of Western entertainers and bands, which, in addition to the usual criteria of not conforming to fundamental Soviet values, were added to the list for rather peculiar reasons; one such example being the Irish band U2, the name of which resembled that of Lockheed U-2, a high-altitude U.S. reconnaissance airplane. As a result, "exotic" Western popular culture became more interesting precisely because it was forbidden. Due to limited exposure, entertainers considered minor, B-list, or of low artistic value in the West were regarded as A-list in the Soviet sphere. Soviet officials called this fascination "Western idolatry" / "Idolatry of the West" (идолопоклонничество перед Западом / idolopoklonnichestvo pered Zapadom).
  • Obedience to or passive acceptance of everything that government imposes on them (see authoritarianism).
  • In the opinion of a former US ambassador to Kazakhstan, a tendency to drink heavily: "[a Kazakh defence minister] appears to enjoy loosening up in the tried and true Homo Sovieticus style – i.e., drinking oneself into a stupor."[6]
  • According to Leszek Kolakowski, it was the Short course history of the CPSU(b) that was critical in forming the key social and mental features of the Homo Sovieticus as a "textbook of false memory and double thinking". Over the course of years, Soviet people were forced to continuously repeat and accept constantly changing editions of the "Short course", each containing slightly different version of the past events. This has inevitably led to forming "a new Soviet man: ideological schizophrenic, honest liar, person always ready for constant and voluntary mental self-mutilations".[7]

See also


  1. "Soviet-era satirist Zinovyev dies". BBC News. 2006-05-10.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Heller quotes, allegedly from a 1974 book "Sovetskye lyudi" ("Soviet People"): "Soviet Union is the fatherland of a new, more advanced type of homo sapiens - homo sovieticus." Heller, Mikhail (1988). Cogs in the Wheel: The Formation of Soviet Man. Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 978-0394569260.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Harboe Knudsen, Ida (2013). New Lithuania in Old Hands: Effects and Outcomes of EUropeanization in Rural Lithuania. p. 20. Retrieved 6 May 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Turowicz, Jerzy (1993). "Pamięć i rodowód". Tygodnik Powszechny (45).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "1917-1987: Unsuccessful and Tragic Attempt to Create a “New Man”"
  6. Greg McArthur Vain, shady and stupendously fat: Latest WikiLeaks like a teen's diary The Globe and Mail 30 November 2010
  7. Kolakowski, Leszek (2008). Main Currents of Marxism: The Founders, the Golden Age, the Breakdown. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0393329438.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading