04b July 16, 2016 -- (reading)

Yevgeny Zamyatin's novel is a classical depiction of the socialist lamb of the socialist God living the socialist utopia, subject to the whims of a socialist Church like any other1.

The story's brilliance derives primarily from the fact that it is built as a first-person (and thus inherently subjective) narration of its main character, D-503, a so-called Number of the machine called the United State and a cog in said machine, writing his, or rather its journal to be spread throughout the entire universe to explain to other curious beings how this great machine works. In a twist of irony, the story somehow ended up being transported back in time to 20th (and now 21st) century Earth, where, or rather when we can amuse ourselves of the sheer stupidity of the socialist individual2.

The number D-503 -- like most other numbers, the reader is left to assume -- is not merely proud to be part of the United State; more than that, it can not conceive of anything other than the United State as it is during its time. In the number's own words, the United State is like a Platonic geometrical shape, symmetrical and uniform, and anything other than that is considered to be less-than-perfect according to State rules and regulations.

State rules and regulations are axiomatic "mathematical" facts, and they regulate pretty much everything, starting from the time numbers wake up, go to sleep and have sex, to the daily work they do and the propaganda they are to be subjected to. Naturally, at least from the point of view of the average comrade, numbers are not supposed to think by themselves, feelings being frowned upon and fancy being considered absolute heresy. In other words, Saint Taylor decreed that independent thought is unscientific (and thus harmful), the hair left on one's hands is an imperfection inherited from a long-lost race of prehistoric animals, and thus being anything but a piece of mindless, soulless matter is unscientific, State above all. Now, this sounds bleak when you look at it from outside, but the way the main character describes everything is meant only to denote numbers' infantile mis-thought. Thus the situation looks absolutely hilarious, a feature which we may attribute to Zamyatin's own Russian dark humour.

Not unlike other dystopian novels3, We's plot is feminine in nature. Some chick attempting to start a revolution uses this particular tool-with-a-cock-attached to wreak some havoc. Again, this is unremarkable. What is however out of the ordinary is D-503's discovery that there is civilization outside the United State and that there exists a freedom other than the doublespoken spoken notion thereof, inoculated in all numbers' feeble minds by the propaganda machine.

The reader is thus presented with a gradual, yet still subjective story of D-503's evolution from a mere number to a human being with a soul. Too little, too late, as they say. At the end of it all, the unbearably stupid number is still unable to grasp the idea that there might be other "We"s than the United State, or, indeed, any other "We"s at all4. And so the main character's soul is swiftly removed by the Well-Doer's machine and all comes back to the status quo, as things usually go in comedies.

The only implausible aspect in Zamyatin's dystopia, as in Orwell's, as in Huxley's, is the perennity of such dreadful machines. But we can forgive We by also labeling it as a Science Fiction slash Fantasy work, where engineering has achieved something other than a complete breakdown and where marketing, that is, propaganda works forever and ever.

  1. Regardless of whether you call it the Catholic Church, Soviet Union or post-9/11 United States.

    Sure, to the untrained eye the US are "the most capitalist state", "the best goddamned country" and whatnot. The untrained eye however fails to observe that just because KFC tastes like chicken and "they" tell you it has at least 20% chicken, that by itself does not make it chicken. This sort of charlatanism is uncoincidentally the prime mark of the so-called "socialist utopia".

  2. NB, there is no such thing as a socialist individual, the term is pure contradiction. The so-called "socialist individual" is but a bunch of mindless, soulless matter whose purpose is solely to be used by the machine. This is another aspect that is masterfully illustrated by the novel.

  3. Although to be completely honest, it was Orwell who was inspired by We and not the other way around.

  4. This is a lesson on the irreversible retardation of socialist thinking. What, there are people who don't eat the same bullshit as you? Who could have ever thought that?!