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We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

We (original 1924; edition 1993)

by Yevgeny Zamyatin, Clarence Brown (Translator)

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5,050134892 (3.9)1 / 326
We by Yevgeny Zamyatin is an early dystopian novel, possibly one of the earliest and certainly an inspiration for George Orwell's 1984. In fact, I was surprised how closely the plot of 1984 follows the plot of We.

D-503 is our narrator and the head of the great Integral project of OneState. In OneState people are given numbers rather than names and every hour of the day has an allocated activity. As a background to D-503's narration, the Integral is being developed, something like a spaceship or rocket that will be able to fly to other planets so that the inhabitants of those planets can also share in the beauty that is OneState. OneState, it seems, has decided that it is best for humanity to have happiness rather than freedom. In fact, it believes that happiness lies in having no freedom. D-503 starts off as an enthusiastic supporter of OneState but when he meets and becomes enthralled by the rebellious female I-330, he becomes more and more confused about what he believes.

The novel is described as a prose poem and I have to confess that I felt like I struggled with the prose at times. I read the 1993 translation by Clarence Brown, published by Penguin Classics but I found a couple of reviews that preferred the 2006 translation by Natasha Randall so this may partly have been due to the translation I was reading. I think there is probably a lot more to this short novel than I picked up on from my slightly rushed first read. Zamyatin uses a lot of mathematical imagery that I would like to think about more deeply on a reread. I think 1984 would probably get my vote for the better book but We is certainly worth reading if you want to understand the background to Orwell's book.

"I shall attempt nothing more than to note down what I see, what I think - or, to be more exact, what we think (that's right: we, and let this WE be the title of these records). But this, surely, will be a derivative of our life, of the mathematically perfect life of OneState, and if that is so, then won't this be, of its own accord, whatever I may wish, an epic?" ( )
3 vote souloftherose | Jul 3, 2012 |
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Set about a thousand years from the present, We shows readers a bleak vision of the future. Society is now controlled by a single entity, One State, and people, now referred to as "ciphers", live in mind-numbing conformity for the sake of efficiency.Everyone has the same hair color, wears the same drab "unif", and chews his or her food exactly fifty times before swallowing, in accordance with One State's mastication rules. Individuality is a thing of the past. Even personal names have been replaced by state-issued letter-and-number combinations.

The narrative is in the form of a secret diary written by a mathematician named D-503, the designer of One State's first spaceship. He falls in love with a mysterious woman called I-330, and through her he discovers the possibilities of life beyond One State's protective glass dome and suffocating Table of Hours. Can D-503 help I-330's rebel group destroy One State, or will he end up crushed by the state's fearsome security apparatus?

I know it's a classic of science fiction and the forerunner of dystopian novels such as 1984 and Brave New World, but I have to admit I had a hard time getting through We as translated by Natasha Randall. The plot is hard to follow, and there are a lot of ellipses, half-finished sentences, and startling geometric and color-based imagery. It took a lot longer to read than I expected given its mere 200-page length. At times D-503 came across as a contemporary man in the midst of a protracted nervous breakdown rather than as a man of the future living under a totalitarian regime. I can recommend this book as a slice of literary history, but not as a particularly compelling read. ( )
  akblanchard | Feb 13, 2016 |
I really wish I'd had the opportunity to read this book back at the age of 12 or 13 or so, when I discovered 1984 and Brave New World. I enjoyed reading this book now - but I would have been passionate about it then.

Either way, this ranks up there with the best of the classic dystopian novels. It's an incisive indictment of totalitarian states, filled with black humor and disturbing tragedy. ( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
We is a dystopian novel that had a significant influence on later dystopian authors like Orwell and Huxley. It was also banned in Russia for its criticisms of communism, and the author ended up immigrating to France after the book was published elsewhere in Europe.

In some future society, complete happiness is linked with unfreedom, or the freedom from choice. People are identified by their numbers, and every hour of the day is strictly scheduled. The book is the diary of a male number, D-503. It begins as a glorification of the society he lives in, but veers away from that as he meets and falls in love with I-330, a revolutionary who is working against the United State. He experiences emotions he has never felt before and begins to question what true happiness is.

In a lot of ways, this book read very much like Brave New World and 1984. All three books are good, but I kind of feel like if you've read one, then you've read them all. Also, the introduction raved about the brilliant language of the original, and I think my translation (by Gregory Zilboorg) fell short of that. I'm left wondering whether my lukewarm feelings about We are a result of the novel itself or a mediocre translation. In other words, meh. ( )
  AmandaL. | Jan 16, 2016 |
We Yevgeny Zamyatin
3 Stars

Normally I love dystopian fiction but for me this was too disjointed (also have just finished Cloud Atlas which I loved)

We is essentially the diary of mathematician D-503 who is working onto interplanetary space ship so that Earth can take the message of mathematical happiness and unfreedom to other planets.

We refers to the fact that on the Earth of the future concepts such as I, Me and Mine no longer exist they are ancient history, every one works for the good of the United State and everyone is happy with his or her role.

I am not sure if the disjointedness of the story comes from the fact it is a translation or from the fact that its a diary and would only really contain someones thoughts which are often disjointed.

I was also disappointed by the ending which perhaps was inevitable. ( )
  BookWormM | Jan 15, 2016 |
More interesting for its innovations and influence than as a novel (it has several flaws), but entertaining nevertheless. ( )
  Michael.Xolotl | Nov 11, 2015 |
It was really interesting but I'm kinda confused which is why I can't give it a higher rating. I really loved the writing style and D-503 was such an interesting character. ( )
  ebethiepaige | Oct 20, 2015 |
It was really interesting but I'm kinda confused which is why I can't give it a higher rating. I really loved the writing style and D-503 was such an interesting character. ( )
  ebethiepaige | Oct 17, 2015 |
Good book and foundational for much of modern dystopia. While it was very original at the time, others have done it better - notably Brave New World and 1984 among others. It served as an unheeded warning against the totalitarian and equalitarian tendencies and tides of his time. ( )
  Hae-Yu | May 7, 2015 |
I thought this was an interesting allegory. I don't know much about the author, just that he fell out with the Russian Communist Party almost immediately after the October Revolution, and that this work was published the year before consolidation of the soviet states started, with 3 years to go before Stalin seized total power. Part of me read it as allegory and premonition of how the soviet experiment could go badly wrong, part of me was attracted by the simplicity of a society built on logic and mathematical principles, part of me felt sad for D-503. He came close to experiencing the fullness of life, but gave in to the cultural norm, because not feeling and not questioning is safer. I thought the characters were believable, and really liked the feistiness of I-330. It was quite sobering reading. ( )
  missizicks | Apr 23, 2015 |
Just blew me away. Amazing that it was written in the 1920's.I had to read the end twice just to make sure I had read I thought I had read.It would make a great movie. ( )
  jaddington | Feb 16, 2015 |
Just blew me away. Amazing that it was written in the 1920's.I had to read the end twice just to make sure I had read I thought I had read.It would make a great movie. ( )
  jaddington | Feb 16, 2015 |
"The thought had somehow never even entered my head before, but, well, it goes exactly like this: we, on the Earth, are constantly walking over a bubbling, crimson sea of fire, hidden there, in the belly of the Earth. But we never think about it. But what if suddenly the fine crust of earth under our feet became glass, and suddenly we could see...

I became glass. I saw into myself, inside." (50)

"You're afraid of it—because it is stronger than you. You hate it—because you are afraid of it. You love it—because you can't conquer it yourself. You see, you can only love the unconquerable." (64)

"Well, which final revolution do you want then? There isn't a final one. Revolutions are infinite. Final things are for children because infinity scares children and it is important that children sleep peacefully at night..." (153)

( )
  gvenezia | Dec 26, 2014 |
very similar to 1984. ( )
  selinalynn69 | Aug 19, 2014 |
The book that was the progenitor for A Brave New World, 1984 and their ilk. A police state doesn't need to spy on citizens who are observable in their glass apartments. They are mere minions socialized to produce efficiently. A bleak look at the future. ( )
  JVioland | Jul 14, 2014 |
As the first non school book I've read...in, well, too long, and I was really excited to have it be a dystopia novel! I found the unique futuristic world where everything is reduced to it's mathematical base, I think that this novel may have had something lost in translation (from the original Russian).

I wanted a little more explanation of the world that the narrator, finds himself in. On the whole, I find the novel to be a little too similar to one of my favorite novels: 1984. Same sort of authoritarian government, same male narrator who is introduced to the underworld by a woman...and similar way that the novel ends.

Overall also a very quick read--so that now it's back to my text books! (I was hoping it would take a cut longer!) ( )
  csweder | Jul 8, 2014 |
As the first non school book I've read...in, well, too long, and I was really excited to have it be a dystopia novel! I found the unique futuristic world where everything is reduced to it's mathematical base, I think that this novel may have had something lost in translation (from the original Russian).

I wanted a little more explanation of the world that the narrator, finds himself in. On the whole, I find the novel to be a little too similar to one of my favorite novels: 1984. Same sort of authoritarian government, same male narrator who is introduced to the underworld by a woman...and similar way that the novel ends.

Overall also a very quick read--so that now it's back to my text books! (I was hoping it would take a cut longer!) ( )
  csweder | Jul 8, 2014 |
There is no final one; revolutions are infinite.

Zamyatin's We (along with [b:The Iron Heel|929783|The Iron Heel|Jack London|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1334104139s/929783.jpg|951056]) is the progenitor of dystopian literature for in We does the reader find the building blocks of [b:1984|5470|1984|George Orwell|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1348990566s/5470.jpg|153313], [b:Brave New World|5129|Brave New World|Aldous Huxley|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1327865608s/5129.jpg|3204877] and other stories in which totalitarian governments exercise complete control. The One State of Zamyatin's novel exercises total control over every aspect of the narrator's life from his rising in the morning to how long he sleeps at night, the Benefactor is elected in a unanimous public election and those who dare dissent are under the threat of death.

We charts the story of Δ-503, one number among many in the One State, and his gradually exposure to the ideas of a free society. He meets members of a rebellion but ultimately like the narrator in 1984, returns to the fold of the state's control even as the authority of the One State is threatened. The novel is impressive in that its portrayal of futuristic technology and for being the origin of many of the tropes central to good dystopian literature.

We is a central novel in the dystopian canon, and its stark message that the fight for freedom is never truly over - there is no final revolution - is still as topical today as when it was first banned by the Soviets in the 1920s. ( )
  xuebi | May 30, 2014 |
A great dystopian science fiction which condemns a mechanistic totalitarian society. D-503 is an ordinary cipher in the One State, until he meets the strangely attractive and rebellious I-330. His entire perception changes over the course of the book. Zamyatin uses mathematical language and symbology throughout, as well as curious ellipses and unfinished thoughts -- to show D-503's deteriorating(?) mindset as well as his relationships with other characters. The language is sparse ,but compelling. It's a very good effort from translator Natasha Randall. ( )
  questbird | May 9, 2014 |
This classic novel is elegantly written (even in translation!), timeless in its message and so perfect in its assessment of what is often called "the human condition". I am so glad I read it. "We" is not "just another dystopian novel". Zamyatin captures the inability of humans to eliminate their soul, no matter how many generations of indoctrination have taken place. The story is told as a diary written by the main character, who begins as a supporter of the United State. In his writing, D-503 (yes everyone is a number) explores the concept that individuality breeds discontent and therefore never results in happiness. To avoid this unhappy state, one's life must be circumscribed by specific rules, including how many times to chew your food, in order to attain a feeling of contentment. He meets someone who totally contradicts that message and, perhaps for the first time in his life, has to confront what it means to think and act for oneself. This is devastating and leads him to seek medical help. He discovers that the happiness he thought he shared with others is not real. Other members of society have similar difficulties and fears about suppressing their individualism. Everything blows up at the end. I won't reveal what happens, but it is an amazing novel. Unforgettable and absolutely at the top of my list of all-time favorites. ( )
  krazy4katz | May 8, 2014 |
In this dystopian far future, people have become like cogs in a machine, identified by number rather than name, performing the same rote tasks at the same time every day, and believing that happiness only comes from giving up freedom.

We is a Russian novel written in the 1920s in response to the two Russian revolutions, as well as to the author's experiences working in the Tyne shipyards and witnessing the collectivization of labor on a large scale. It is one of the earliest examples of the dystopian novel, and it influenced both George Orwell's 1984 and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. For readers interested in the history of dystopian literature, it is a must-read.

However, it's a bit of a frustrating read, especially for readers more interested in a riveting story. Zamyatin writes in an almost poetic style, often bordering on the surreal, and it can be difficult at times to figure out exactly what is happening. (He also has an annoying quirk of letting his sentences trail off into ellipses.) When I find myself reading a book like this, one more concerned with words and images than sense and story, I read it almost like poetry. I just let the images flow over me and absorb what I can, without bothering to parse the story too much. That's why I'm hard put to describe the plot of We.

The novel takes place in a city made entirely of glass and separated from the natural world by an immense glass wall. This in itself is an overwhelming image: a city bathed in sunlight, where everyone can see everyone else at almost all times, except for the once-weekly allowed sex visits when the blinds can come down. Zamyatin plays with this juxtaposition of the sunny, beautiful city as the place of oppression. When the winds and storms come, we sense that revolution is brewing, and when the mass flocks of birds break through, we know that the walls preserving this totalitarian regime are crumbling.

While We lacks the coherent, straightforward plot we're used to in contemporary dystopias, and sometimes teeters on the edge of the absurd, it is still a powerful read. It's not difficult to spot the tropes that have been appropriated and expanded upon by later authors who tackled the dystopian form. I think it's always interesting to take a look at a genre's roots, if only to realize how old, but still powerful, these ideas are. ( )
  sturlington | Apr 23, 2014 |
Published in 1924 this dystopian novel is now firmly fixed as a classic of 20th century literary science fiction ranking alongside George Orwell's [1984] and Aldous Huxley's [Brave New World]. [We] predates both these novels and while Huxley claimed not to have read it Orwell admitted that his idea of a modern dystopia was written following a reading of [We]. Curiously Huxley's stable, safe drug induced and happy[Brave New world] is much more like [We] than Orwell's claustrophobic shabby world of spies informers and shortages.

Zamtatin's We is set in the far future and follows the near annihilation of the human race following the catastrophic 200 years war. The One State is ruled by the Benefactor; the inhabitants have numbers instead of names and live in a modern city almost entirely made of glass surrounded by the green wall that excludes the anarchic fecund world of nature. No privacy is required in a city whose inhabitants work and play according to a rigid timetable, everyone getting up at the same time and having the same hours of recreation. Within the timetable are generous amounts of sex days according to need and every number(person) has the right of availability to any other person on the production of a pink ticket; blinds can be lowered for 15 minutes while sexual intercourse takes place. Nothing is concealed from the guardians and it is a citizens duty to report any law breakers; conversations out of doors are carefully monitored. The story focuses on D-503 who has the misfortune to fall in love and suffer a mental breakdown; he is an important mathematician and builder of the INTEGRAL the first rocket ship designed to export the One State culture to other worlds. The object of his affection I-330 is the leader of an underground group who are intent on stealing the INTEGRAL to link up with the natural outside world.

The One State is by no means an unhappy society; although it aims to eradicate individuality numbers like D-503 revel in its safety, its conformity, its productiveness and its feeling of companionability. The freedom of past civilizations is seen as disorganised wildness and in D-503's opinion does not compare to the harmonious, clean and carefree world in which he lives. D503's story is told in a series of records that he imagines he is writing for someone to read in the twentieth century and so he extolls the virtues of his society and the reader feels the poetry of the mathematically structured world of the future. D-503 is excited by his world and so his doubts and fears as he becomes a sick number (person) through his mental breakdown are scatter shots of the wildness that he fears.

The ability to create a world that entices and fascinates the reader is a pre-requisite of much dystopian/science fiction writing, but to make the novel have literary merit the author has to go further. Zamyatin does this by his ambiguity about the merits of the One State and the reader asks himself the question: is all the conformity as bad as it first appears; seduced perhaps by some fine writing full of images that convey the beauty that D-503 sees in his world. The reader also is witness to the disintegration of this world through the thoughts of a man losing his grip on reality, what is real and what is not becomes a question that hovers over this book. The language is certainly dreamlike and perhaps a little druggy like the reflections in the glass that surround everything in the One State. The book has a feel and an atmosphere all of it's own and the writing would appeal to those who like the work of [[Cordwainer Smith]]

I found myself re-reading parts of this novel in appreciation of its imagery and its flow, always a good sign. Here is D-503 falling in love and discovering his soul;

The two of us walked along as one . Somewhere a long ways off through the fog you could hear the sun singing, everything was supple. pearly, golden, pink, red,. The whole world was one immense woman and we were in her very womb, we hadn't yet been born, we were enjoying ripening. And it was clear unshakeably clear, that all of this was for me: the sun, the fog, the pink, the gold - for me. I didn't ask where we were going, going, ripening, burgeoning and supple.

As a dystopian science fiction novel it ranks along with the very best and so deserves 5 stars, as literature I suppose it is a four star read, hence my rating of 4.5 stars. (I will never think of a pink ticket in quite the same way again) ( )
7 vote baswood | Apr 22, 2014 |
A man starts a journal. He sits in a glass armchair, at a glass desk, in a glass room. Around him, thousands of other men and women sit in their own glass rooms, in glass buildings in a huge megalopolis entirely made of glass.

Set in the 26th century, in an urban civilization that has reorganized itself after a nuclear Armageddon, the engineer named D-503, starts his journal to celebrate the “Integral”, a spaceship he helped to design and which will soon leave Earth to conquer and civilize the inhabitants of other planets and other galaxies.

OneState, a dictatorial regime led by the “Benefactor”, rules the city. Private property does not exist. Nameless citizens have been denied any individuality and are just "numbered cogs” in an immense urban machine. Their life is regulated around the clock, up to the minute, according to strict efficiency rules laid out in “The Table” and enforced by sinister Guardians. The transparency of the glass city has rendered all privacy impossible with the exception of their 15 minutes of emotion-less weekly sex, when couples are briefly allowed to lower the blinds of the windows of their dwellings.

When D-503 wakes up, we get a strange “endless reflection” effect, like the one we get when we stand between two mirrors facing each other :

[…] time to get up. To the right and the left through the glass walls I see something like my own self, my own room, my own clothes, my own movements, and all repeated a thousand times. It cheers you up ; You see yourself as part of an immense , powerful single thing. And such a precise beauty it is : not a wasted gesture, bend , turn.

While the intention of his writings is to laud the society he serves, D-503, will unintentionally record in his journal, his own progressive mental and social breakdown. Two women, more brave than himself, will tempt him into rebellious acts of love, transgressions that will bring him face to face with the repressive forces of the most brutal of tyrannies.

As the novel is written by Yevgeny Zamyatin, a Russian living in the beginning of the 20th century, (1884 – 1937), a reader could easily misunderstand “We” as a reaction against the Soviet and Stalinist dictatorial horrors. But, to be really that, the book was written a decade too early. The draft of the novel dates from 1919 and by 1921 it was already censored, well before the Stalinists purges of the 1930’s. Rather than an indictment of the Soviet rule, “We” is in fact an eerie accurate prophecy of things still to come. The true genius of Zamyatin, an engineer by profession, was that he merged the several societal developments he witnessed, into a credible Monster of the future societies.

Partly inspired by HG.Wells’ scientific socialist utopias, but himself a huge inspiration for Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s 1984, Zamyatin in his novel links the dots between the collectivization, he witnessed on a large scale at the Tyne Shipyards in England, Lenin and Stalin’s attempts to incorporate Taylorism into Soviet manufacturing and Bentham’s architectural theories of how to control inmates by the very shape of their prison.

Notwithstanding its intellectual scope, We still is an agreeable read. The novel exudes some kind of thirties charm, the charm of the old Buck Rogers - Flash Gordon comics, with its descriptions of men and women dressed alike, in a Uniform with a numbered badge on their heart and the girls in the control room of the space ship launch wearing cute winged helmets.

The novel has its funny details too. In this world of excessive egalitarianism, as said, man and woman do not have a proper name and are recognized by a given number. Males have odd numbers prefixed by consonants; females have even numbers prefixed by vowels. The narrator for instance is D-530. While critics insist that these numbers were inspired by the technical specifications of the icebreaker Saint Alexander Nevsky, on which Zamyatin was working, I rather think that the writer amused himself and later his readers with a few jokes. The adventurous femme fatale who disturbs and infringes on the narrator’s life is called I – 330. She is indeed svelte like an I and the twist and turns of the double threes stand for the sexy curves of both boobs and buttocks. The woman who is designed to D-503's for his cavorting on command is named O-90. She is shorter and more rotund and wants to have a child. The nine is easily recognized as the shape of a fetus in an early stage. Onestate has forbidden O-90 to get pregnant for she does not fit the right profile of length. The double agent S-4711 has a snaky double curved twist and stinks like a cheap foreign perfume. And maybe the D of D-530 stands for Durak or fool, a man failing to recognize his destiny.

On top of the charm and the fun, Russianness too, seeps through the lines of this dystopia. Not only is there a Babushka guarding the door of the only opaque building in the city, other and more literary allusions abound. There are for instance the negroid lips of the narrator’s poet friend who remind us of Pushkin, there is the Gogolian obsession with noses, but the work that comes most to mind is Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov novel. Indeed, Onestate, the society build on rational principles and scientific laws is Ivan Karamazov’s progressive dream turned into a social nightmare. The figure of the “Benefactor” reminds us strongly of the Grand Inquisitor and his creation of a society meaning to do good, to eliminate war, hunger and poverty, but ending by being bad, for having cut out its social and religious value systems, to have lacerated itself from its citizens. And finally, OneState’s worse enemies are those individuals, who like Misha, the other Karamazov Brother, have freed their so-called Karamazovian force, that crude unbridled earthly force which sits in the center of our soul, a passionate animal lust of freedom.

A dystopia, even a Russian dystopia like the one written by Zamyatin, is a middle-class fiction. An idea is worked out to such an extreme level, that it becomes a warning of things to come for those people, affluent enough, to lose something if things further develop along the predicted lines. It always strikes me that even in the bleakest of dystopian novels, the Maslowian levels of physiological and security needs are never at the core of the problem. This obviously stands in stark contrast with the real, war drenched, 20th century in which they were written. Even today, for the more than 800 million people suffering of chronic undernourishment and the many more, homeless and war affected wretches, Zamyatin’s story (if only they could read ) would be a fairy-tale rather than a nightmare.

One man’s Dystopia can be another one’s Utopia.

What makes “We” particularly interesting is that Zamyatin is identifying the two real underlying mechanics that still push us onward to what we consider today dystopian, but which might well be our everyday life in a very near future.

Depicting OneState, this future world of terror, as a clear transparent urban nation, almost entirely constructed out of glass, is a stroke of genius. One can easily follow Zamyatin’s reasoning why the use of transparent building block is the most efficient tool for dictatorial oppression. For people living under the oppressive State - control often have the impression that the secret police can see right through the walls of their private dwellings behind which they hide.

In all its glass and steel architectural modernism OneState is nothing more than a huge prison for its citizens. Such real constructions existed already when Zamyatin wrote his book. One thinks about the Panopticon prison design developed along the ideas of the 18th century English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham. In a Panopticon (observe – all), a single person can watch a greater number of people without that they, say the inmates of a prison, can see who is watched or not. Bentham boasted that his concept was “a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example.” And indeed, while people realize that they cannot be all watched all the time, they start to act as if they are watched constantly, effectively controlling their behavior.

The panopticon concept is outdated nowadays. Electronics and IT have replaced it more effectively in ways even Zamyatin could not foresee. The enthusiasm with which we adopt the blinking new technologies like mobile phones and GPS, home computers and Internet is hurling us at neck breaking pace towards the world Zamyatin is warning us for.

The use of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Foursquare, Linkedin, Snapchat, private blogs, email, electronic membership cards, user registrations, mobile and electronic banking, have effectively replaced glass transparency and allows to any “Great Benefactor” out there, to “see”all we do and get control over our private lives.

The second and more important mechanism exposed by Zamyatin is Taylorianism.

Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856 – 1915), is the so - called father of scientific management and industrial efficiency. He was the fine gentleman who debased the manual worker to the level of the machine cog, by stating that if they were so stupid as to do manual work, they were certainly too stupid to understand the simple tasks they were doing.

For the implementation of his efficiency methods, Taylor was equally clear that it could only happen through enforced standardization of methods, enforced adoption of the best working conditions, and enforced cooperation.

While a greater efficiency was certainly attained through its methods, people like Mintzberg correctly warned that an obsession with efficiency would overshadow less quantifiable social benefits and social values and degrade work into monotonous and skill-reducing tasks that would alienate workers from what they were doing.

Still in We, Taylor is a God and his efficiency methods a mantra.

D-503 somewhere enthusiastically exclaims:

“No doubt about it, that Taylor was the genius of antiquity. […] How could they write whole libraries on Kant and hardly even notice Taylor – that prophet that could see ten centuries ahead?”

And in the immense hangar, the engineer holds his breath when he observes the teams at work on the Integral, that immense spaceship:

“I watched the men below, how they would bend over, straighten up, turn around, all in accordance with Taylor, smoothly and quickly, keeping in time, like the levers of a single immense machine.”

Again, information technology today has brought Zamyatin’s world closer. While Robotics and more efficient – computer steered machinery have made the problems on the work floor less acute, the developments of IT have also allowed to apply Taylorism to white collar jobs. Embedded in a wrong company culture, IT and the possibility to apply draconic efficiency rules to office jobs, has turned employees and clerks into the new salary slaves.

With all that in mind, one starts to understand that Zamyatin’s book is by far superior to Orwell’s dystopia. While Orwell just had to glance over the iron wall to see what he predicted, Zamyatin’s not only foresaw much earlier what was going to happen in his mother country, but he also identified for us the mechanics on which a modern rational authoritarian society could be build. Zamyatin’s warning still stands , more acute than ever I would say, and in his short but brilliant little book, he also advices on the stance to take:

"There is no final revolution. Revolutions are infinite.",one character says.

Nothing less than a paraphrase of Karl Marx’s famous world-shaking concept of the “Permanent Revolution” ( )
14 vote Macumbeira | Apr 10, 2014 |
When you're trying to create a compelling dystopia for the reader (or for yourself, or whoever man), it strikes me, there are no easy choices. Do you go for lazy accessibility, a la Aldous Huxley in Brave New World, where everybody's kind of aaaaalmost a lower upper middle class British technocrat only with the sexual mores that we know all those lower upper middle class British technocrats would adopt for their own if they thought they were either attractice or iconoclastic enough to get away with it? Do you go for radical camp, like George Orwell in 1984, where psychological plausibility takes second place to totalitarian gothic? (Many of us will have seen that thing that points out how Airstrip One is a fever dream but London 632 After Ford is already here.)

Or do you take the path less chosen, the face less boottrod, the hole of obstacle golf less played? Zamyatin, whose status as the major source for both Huxley and Orwell is so obvious as to be beyond dispute (a feat in itself! though Huxley did deny it) gives us a disjointed, inaccessible, but oh-so-real insider's view of a thousand-year reich where simultaneously all that is solid is melting into air (fittingly, given that humans are "numbers") through the eyes of one of its more brilliant and poetic denizens (D-503 he gets the chance to be because he's the designer of the spaceship, the Integral, through which the One State is going to enslave the other planets of the galaxy. This state, conceived at the beginning of the Soviet era, still needs people in such creative genius roles; I suspect that if it ever actually comes to this kind of frank totalitarianism the invasion fleet'll be built by a million sleepy dudes screwing together a billion widgets). It's an extraordinary book and I have no idea how to review it except to say that I read it like a tone-diary of fears and curiosity-never-stamped-out and the tender shoots of humanity, protected anxiously by tender humans not even equipped to realize that their actions constitute rebellion (but none the less subject to liquidation for that).

Our one right is the right to punishment. What is the last number? Horrifying and heady thoughts, and this book's full of 'em. It's psychologically real--a veritable Gormenghast in the gleaming machine of our more awful possibilities as a planet--and for that, from outside the bad future with no bad future brain, it's hard to follow where Zamyatin goes at times. I didn't always understand what kind of neural bloodflowers were bursting forth from D-503's head, but I will always remember this book and you should too. ( )
11 vote MeditationesMartini | Apr 6, 2014 |
Before I didn’t know this, but now I know, and you’ll know it too: laughter comes in different colours. It is only the distant echo of an explosion occurring inside you: it might be festive rockets of red, blue, gold, or it might be shreds of human bodies flying upward…

Never was a dystopian novel so brightly coloured, so jangled and vivid, so like a kaleidoscope. Never has a dystopian world been brighter – sparkling with glass and blue sky. And has any other dystopian hero (or anti-hero) been so turbulent, so vivid, so uncertain?

We is of course a political satire. It attacks the Soviet Union as Zamyatin knew it, and the idea of the police state. Part of the philosophy of the One State is: Freedom leads to desire which leads to unhappiness; therefore the sure path to happiness is to remove freedom. So there in a sealed, controlled glass world, every cipher obeys the Table of Hours, doing almost absolutely everything in unison. There is no longer any concept of ‘the unknown’. Everything is clear, precise, mathematically predictable.

But our (anti)hero, D-503, falls in love with a rebel and develops a sickness, diagnosed with horror as ‘a soul’. And so begins the turmoil. We is in fact not only a political satire, it is more universal than that. It’s a kind of personal, every-person satire as well. This business of being a ‘person’ is at the heart of what We is all about. The uncontainable, painful, colourful, explosiveness of being alive, with an imagination, a heart, desires. Logic and reason, so clear-cut, so cool and composed, hits the white-heat of illogical humanity, and the fizz it makes is uncontrollable.

Sometimes what’s actually happening isn’t quite clear, but the sense of being there in it is. Emotions and reactions are full of colour here, through Zamyatin’s eyes. It’s supposed that Zamyatin had synaesthesia – I am sure of it. That’s what makes his writing so apt and vivid, even when it doesn’t make much sense.

We shouldn’t forget that the novel itself was a courageous political act. The manuscript was smuggled to New York, translated into English and published there in 1924, to the outrage of the Soviet State. According to Wikipedia, (forgive the blandness of that), Zamyatin apparently wrote to Stalin himself, pleading for permission to leave the Soviet Union in 1931. (Incredibly, permission was granted!) In that letter he wrote: “True literature can only exist when it is created, not by diligent and reliable officials, but by madmen, hermits, heretics, dreamers, rebels and sceptics.” We can let that sentence stand as the ultimate description of this novel.
16 vote ChocolateMuse | Apr 2, 2014 |
I know that this book is often-cited as Orwell's inspiration for '1984' leading to 'Brave New World' by Huxley ... and I see the parallels, but this book lacked the boldness and maybe some of the clarity found in other dystopian classics.

Probably worth the read from a purely literary perspective, especially if you love classic dystopian and sci-fi literature. ( )
  steadfastreader | Mar 18, 2014 |
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