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We ( ) is a dystopian novel by Yevgeny Zamyatin completed in 1921. It was written in response to the author's personal experiences during the Russian revolution of 1905, the Russian revolution of 1917, his life in the Newcastlemarker suburb of Jesmondmarker, and work in the Tyne shipyards during the First World War. It was on Tyneside that he observed the rationalization of labour on a large scale. Zamyatin was a trained marine engineer, hence his dispatch to Newcastle to oversee ice-breaker construction for the Imperial Russian navy.

Plot summary

We, set in the 26th century, is related by the protagonist, D-503, in a diary which details both his work as a mathematician and a constructor of the space-ship INTEGRAL, as well as his misadventures with a resistance group called the Mephi, an obvious reference to Mephistopheles, one of the many allusions in the novel.

D-503 lives in the One State,The Ginsburg and Randall translations use the phrasing "One State". Guerney uses "The One State"—each word is capitalized. Brown uses the single word "OneState", which he calls "ugly" (p. xxv). Zilboorg uses "United State".
All of these are translations of the phrase Yedinoye Gosudarstvo (Russian: Единое Государство). an urban nation constructed almost entirely of glass, which allows the secret police/spies to inform on and supervise the public more easily. Life is organized to promote maximum productive efficiency along the lines of the system advocated by the hugely influential F.W. Taylor. People march in step with each other and wear identical clothing. There is no way of referring to people save by their given numbers. Males have odd numbers prefixed by consonants, females have even numbers prefixed by vowels.

In the One State, the "Lex Sexualis" states: "Each number has a right to any other number, as to a sexual commodity.” Blood samples inform the State of sex-hormone levels, allowing the State to designate how often any "number" may have sex with some other "number." Any individual may file a requisition for sex with any other individual via a system of pink coupons. During such sexual hours, the room blinds may be lowered. Incorrigibles and criminals in the One State are publicly executed by exposing them to a ray that converts them into a puddle of water, in a manner reminiscent of ancient barbaric sacrifices. Food consists of a petroleum-based soft drink.

D-503 spends a good deal of time with his plump clinging girlfriend O-90, and the State poet R-13, referring to their relationship as a “triangle". He is an enthusiastic supporter of the regime and its aims, and begins his diary as a testament to the happiness that the One State has discovered, and which, by means of the Integral he hopes to export to extraterrestrial civilizations. Interestingly, while D-503 is perfectly aware that the Great Benefactor is a ruthless dictator, he accepts this fact, believing that the Benefactor is a competent and honest man who uses his harsh brutality for the greater good.

An encounter with the enigmatic and sexually alluring I-330 brings this complacency to an end. She is in league with the rebellious Mephi, and as D-503's infatuation begins to take over his life, the struggle between his loyalty to the state and the subversive imperative of human passion drives him towards heterodoxy.

D-503 is eventually arrested and brought in for the Great Operation (similar to a lobotomy), where his imagination is removed via triple X-ray cautery and he can watch the execution of I-330 with equanimity. Meanwhile the Mephi revolt gathers strength; the Green Wall begins to crumble, birds begin to populate the city, and people start to commit acts of social rebellion. The novel ends with the issue in doubt. A repeated mantra in the novel is that there is no final revolution.

Major themes

Dystopian society

The dystopian society depicted in We is presided over by the Benefactor and is surrounded by a giant Green Wall to separate the citizens from primitive untamed nature. All citizens are known as "numbers".

Every hour in one's life is directed by "The Table," a precursor to Nineteen Eighty-Four's telescreen. It is also prefigured by Vicar Dewley's 'Precepts of Assured Salvation' in Zamyatin's 1916 Newcastle novella Islanders.

The action of WE is set at some time after the Two Hundred Years War which has wiped out all but "0.2 of the earth's population". The War was over a rare substance never mentioned in the book, as all knowledge of the war comes from biblical metaphors; the substance was called "bread" as the "Christians gladiated over it" — as in countries fighting conventional wars. However, it is also revealed that the war only ended after the use of superweapons, so that the One State is surrounded with a post-apocalyptic landscape.

Totalitarianism, Communism, and Empire

The Benefactor is the equivalent of Big Brother, but unlike his Orwellian equivalent, is actually confirmed to exist when D-503 has an encounter with him. D-503 incidentally gives his age here as 32, the age Zamyatin was in Newcastle. An "election" is held every year on Unanimity Day, but the Benefactor is unanimously re-elected each year. The vote is also public, so that everyone knows who is voting.

The Integral, the One State's space ship, has been designed by D-503 to bring the message of the One State to the rest of the universe. This is often seen as analogous to the ideal of a Global Communist State held by early Marxists, but it can be more broadly read as a critique of the tendency of all modernizing, industrial societies' toward empire and colonization under the guise of civilizing development for "primitive peoples." This was, fundamentally, a materialist view that reduces the world to physical laws and processes that can be understood and manipulated for utilitarian purposes. It was a world view that Zamyatin despised, and We dramatizes the conflict between nature/spirit and artifice/order.

The role of the poet/writer, as Zamyatin saw it, was to be the heretical voice (or "I") that always insisted on imagination, especially when established institutions seek conformity and concerted effort ("We") toward a defined goal. Zamyatin was disturbed by the way in which the Party viewed literature as a useful tool for realizing its goals, and he witnessed particularly troubling compromises from fellow writers who increasingly toed the party line through institutions like the Russian Association of Proletarian Writers (RAPP) or the Writers Union, from which he resigned in 1929. References to official efforts to co-opt literary talent cannot be missed in We. The story begins with D-503 deciding to answer the One State's call for all with literary talent to "compose tracts, odes, manifestos, poems, or other works extolling the beauty and grandeur of the One State." These contributions would be loaded on the Integral as its first cargo, exporting efficiency and un-freedom to the populations of the universe. D-503, before he becomes afflicted with a soul, records his "Reflections on Poetry" in which he praises the "majestic" Institute of State Poets and Writers.

Literary significance and influences

We is generally considered to be the grandfather of the satirical futuristic dystopia genre (but see The Iron Heel). It takes the totalitarian and conformative aspects of modern industrial society to an extreme conclusion, depicting a state that believes that free will is the cause of unhappiness, and that citizens' lives should be controlled with mathematical precision based on the system of industrial efficiency created by Frederick Winslow Taylor.

George Orwell believed that Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932) "must be partly derived from" We. However, in a 1962 letter, Huxley says that he wrote Brave New World long before he had heard of We. According to We translator Natasha Randall, Orwell believed that Huxley was lying.Kurt Vonnegut said that in writing Player Piano (1952) he "cheerfully ripped off the plot of Brave New World, whose plot had been cheerfully ripped off from Eugene Zamiatin's We."

Ayn Rand's Anthem (1938) has several major similarities to We, although it is stylistically and thematically different.

George Orwell began Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) some eight months after he read We in a French translation and wrote a review of it. Orwell is reported as "saying that he was taking it as the model for his next novel."Bowker (p. 340) paraphrasing Rayner Heppenstall.
Brown writes that for Orwell and certain others, We "appears to have been the crucial literary experience." Shane states that "Zamyatin's influence on Orwell is beyond dispute". Russell, in an overview of the criticism of We, concludes that "1984 shares so many features with We that there can be no doubt about its general debt to it", however there is a minority of critics who view the similarities between We and 1984 as "entirely superficial". Further, Russell finds "that Orwell's novel is both bleaker and more topical than Zamyatin's, lacking entirely that ironic humour that pervades the Russian work."

In The Right Stuff (1979), Tom Wolfe describes We as a "marvelously morose novel of the future" featuring an "omnipotent spaceship" called the Integral whose "designer is known only as 'D-503, Builder of the Integral.' " Wolfe goes on to use the Integral as a metaphor for the Soviet launch vehicle, the Soviet space program, or the Soviet Union.

Jerome K. Jerome has been cited as an influence on Zamyatin’s novel. Jerome’s short essay "The New Utopia" (1891) describes a regimented future city, indeed world, of nightmarish egalitarianism, where men and women are barely distinguishable in their grey uniforms (Zamyatin’s "unifs") and all have short black hair, natural or dyed. No one has names: women wear even numbers on their tunics, men wear odd, just as in We. Equality is taken to such lengths that people with well-developed physique are liable to have lopped limbs. In Zamyatin, similarly, the equalisation of noses is earnestly proposed. Jerome has anyone with an over-active imagination subjected to a levelling-down operation—something of central importance in We. Even more significant is the appreciation on the part of both Jerome and Zamyatin that individual, and by extension, familial love, is a disruptive and humanising force.

Jerome's works were translated in Russia three times before 1917. Three Men in a Boat is a set book in Russian schools.


WE was the first work banned by Glavlit, the new Soviet censorship bureau, in 1921, though the initial draft dates to 1919. .

In fact, a good deal of the basis of the novel is present in Zamyatin's novella Islanders, begun in Newcastle in 1916.

In the novella, Lady Campbell and the citizens of Jesmond are shown as repressed slaves to a stifling regime. The dominant figure is the repellent Reverend Dewley, vicar of St Enoch's. Mr Dewley, with his terrible gold teeth, is the author of 'Precepts of Assured Salvation' in which precise times are allotted for all activities. Even Mrs Dewley's needs are catered for every third Saturday.

Respectability holds sway in the haven of entropy which is Jesmond. Any sign of imagination or originality is regarded with horror. Houses are identical. Trees stand in cropped order; Jesmond folk only write on lined paper; blue vases line one side of the street, green the other. Chairs fit their carpet marks.The equalisation of people's noses is discussed - and is also mentioned in We

Zamyatin's literary position deteriorated throughout the 1920s, and he was eventually allowed to emigrate to Paris in 1931, probably after the intercession of Maxim Gorky.

The novel was first published in English in 1924,but its first publication in the Soviet Unionmarker had to wait until 1988,when glasnost resulted in it appearing alongside George Orwell's 1984. A year later We and Brave New World were published together in a combined edition.

Allusions and references

Many of the names and numbers in We are allusions to personal experiences of Zamyatin or to culture and literature.For example, "Auditorium 112" refers to cell number 112, where Zamyatin was twice imprisoned and the name of S-4711 is a reference to the Eau de Cologne number 4711marker.

Zamyatin, who worked as a naval architect, refers to the specifications of the icebreaker St. Alexander Nevsky.
The numbers [.
.] of the chief characters in WE are taken directly from the specifications of Zamyatin's favourite icebreaker, the Saint Alexander Nevsky, yard no. A/W 905, round tonnage 3300, where 0-90 and I-330 appropriately divide the hapless D-503 [.
.] Yu-10 could easily derive from the Swan Hunter yard numbers of no fewer than three of Zamyatin's major icebreakers - 1012, 1020, 1021 [.
R-13 can be found here too, as well as in the yard number of Sviatogor A/W 904."All these icebreakers were constructed in England, in Newcastle and yards nearby; there are traces of my work in every one of them, especially the Alexander Nevsky—now the Lenin;I did the preliminary design, and after that none of the vessel's drawings arrived in the workshop without having been checked and signed:

'Chief surveyor of Russian Icebreakers' Building E.Zamiatin." [The signature is written in English.] (Zamyatin ([1962]))

There are literary allusions to Dostoevsky, particularly Notes from Underground and The Brothers Karamazov, and to The Bible.

Many comparisons to The Bible exist in We. There are similarities between Genesis Chapters 1-4 and We, where the One State is considered Paradise, D-503 is Adam, and I-330 is Eve. The snake in this piece is S-4711, who is described as having a bent and twisted form, with a "double-curved body" (he is a double agent). References to Mephistopheles (in the Mephi) are seen as allusions to Satan and his rebellion against Heaven in the Bible. The novel itself could also be considered a criticism of organised religion given this interpretation. Where as it appears that Zamyatin, inline with Dostovesky, made the novel a criticism of the excesses of a deterministic, atheistic (Godless) society. As the One State in the novel is an atheist society.

The novel uses mathematical concepts symbolically. The spaceship of which D-503 is supervising the construction of is called the Integral, which he hopes will "integrate the grandiose cosmic equation". D-503 also mentions that he is profoundly disturbed by the concept of the square root of -1 -- which is the basis for imaginary numbers (imagination being deprecated by the One State). Zamyatin's point, probably in light of the increasingly dogmatic Soviet government of the time, would seem to be that is that it is impossible to remove all the rebels against a system and he even says this through I-330: "There is no final revolution. Revolutions are infinite."

See also

The description of the Poet implies he bears a physical resemblance to Pushkin.


  1. The title Мы ( ) is the Russian first person plural personal pronoun. It is usually romanized as My by transliterating the Russian letter ы (Yery) as the English letter y. However, the romanization My is not a translation or a pronunciation and should not be confused with the English word my.
  2. Brown, p. xi, citing Shane, gives 1921. Russell, p. 3, dates the first draft to 1919.
  3. Erich Fromm's afterword to 1984.
  4. Ginsburg trans. This term is also translated as "Well-Doer". Benefactor translates Blagodetel (Russian: Благодетель).
  5. Ginsburg trans. This is also translated as "cyphers". Numbers translates nomera (Russian: номера).
  6. Fifth Entry (Ginsburg translation, p. 21).
  7. Ginsburg, Introduction, p. xviii.
  8. Ginsburg translation, "First Entry"
  9. Ginsburg translation, "Twelfth Entry"
  10. Orwell (1946).
  11. Russell, p. 13.
  12. (radio interview with We translator Natasha Randall)
  13. Playboy interview with Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., July 1973.
  14. Orwell (1946). Russell, p. 13.
  15. Brown trans., Introduction, p. xvi.
  16. Shane, p. 140.
  17. "D-503": p. 55, 236. "it looked hopeless to try to catch up with the mighty Integral in anything that involved flights in earth orbit.": p. 215. Wolfe uses the Integral in several other passages.
  18. Stenbock-Fermor.
  19. Published in Diary of a Pilgrimage (and Six Essays). (full text)
  20. In a translation by Zilboorg.
  21. Brown translation, p. xiv. Tall notes that glasnost resulted in many other literary classics being published in the USSR during 1988-1989.
  22. Tall, footnote 1.
  23. Randall, p. xvii.
  24. Ermolaev.
  25. Shane, p 12.
  26. Myers.
  27. Gregg.
  28. The Curve of the Sacred: An Exploration of Human Spirituality by Constantin V. Ponomareff; Kenneth A. Bryson Publisher: Editions Rodopi BV ISBN 9042020318 ISBN 978-9042020313
  29. Ginsburg, Introduction, p. v. The Thirtieth Entry has a similar passage.
  30. "Such an impoverishing, necessitarian mode of thought can only be .... machine and a veritable cult of efficiency (effectively parodied in Zamyatin's We)."Ecology and carnival: Traces of a 'green' social theory in the writings of M. M. Bakhtin" Volume 22, Number 6 / December, 1993 pi=0
  31. "Zamyatin was apparently leaning toward a negative technological determinism" Forms of Hatred: the Troubled Imagination in Modern Philosophy and Literature pg110 By Leonidas Donskis ISBN 9042010665 Zamyatin+Determinism+&source=web&ots=cZRfENUx45&sig=4bcrEDNWlIhkGLoMeRXP3xuG434



Russian language editions

The first complete Russian language edition of We was published in New York in 1952. (Brown, p. xiv, xxx)
We was first published in the USSR in this collection of Zamyatin's works. (Brown, p. xiv, xxx)
  • (also cited as Zamyatin: We, Duckworth, 2006)
Edited with Introduction and Notes by Andrew Barratt. Plain Russian text, with English introduction, bibliography and notes.

Online works



Journal articles

English: My wives, icebreakers and Russia. Russian: О моих женах, о ледоколах и о России.
The original date and location of publication are unknown, although he mentions the 1928 rescue of the Nobile expedition by the Krasin, the renamed Svyatogor.
The article is reprinted in E. I. Zamiatin, 'O moikh zhenakh, o ledokolakh i o Rossii', Sochineniia (Munich, 1970–1988, four vols.) II, pp. 234–40.

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