Thoughtcrime Thursdays: “We” by Yevgeny Zamyatin

Welcome to the second edition of Thoughtcrime Thursdays, the weekly column where we explore the world of fictional dystopia as a critique on our current society! As promised last week, we will be taking a look at the 1921 Russian dystopian novel We by Yevgeny Zamyatin.

First translated to English in 1924, We chronicles life in the One State, a communist regime which has ruled the world for the last thousand years. In order to spread its influence across the galaxy, the One State has commissioned the construction of a massive rocket, known as the Integral.

In order to celebrate the completion of the Integral, each citizen has been directed to create “treatises, epics, manifestos, odes, or any other composition addressing the beauty and majesty of the One State.” Upon the rocket’s  completion, the works are to be loaded onto the Integral and used to propagandize any aliens who may yet be living in the “savage state of freedom.” The text of the story itself is one such work, the journal of D-503, a space engineer tasked with constructing the Integral.

Like every other citizen of the One StateD-503 lives in a sprawling panoptic city made entirely of glass, which doesn’t allow for privacy. Every second of every day is governed by mathematical formulas, by which citizens march in step and perform their daily duties. Citizens do not live in familial units and are not allowed to refuse sexual relations with any other citizen. If a citizen desires another, they may make a formal request to visit them for sexual encounters.

My copy of the book, translated by Natasha Randall contains absolutely stunning prose, which caught my attention by the first two pages:

As I write this: I feel my cheeks burn. I suppose this resembles what a woman experiences when she first hears a new pulse within her–the pulse of a tiny, unseeing, mini-being. This text is me; and simultaneously not me. And it will feed for many months on my sap, my blood, and then, in anguish, it will be ripped from my self and placed at the foot of the One State.

But I am ready and willing, just as every one–or almost every one of us. I am ready.

Described by Randall as Zamyatin’s critique on “Russian enthusiasms which[] were entering a sort of singular Bolshevik utopian rigor mortis . . .  By 1923 . . . [t]he ‘greens’ (peasants), the ‘blacks’ (anarchists), and the Whites were being reduced to ashes while the only remaining ideology was forging the idea that man could be made mechanical.” Zamyatin plays with these ideas by taking them to literal absurdities in the book.

While reading the We, I was reminded of Peter Joseph and the Zeitgeist Movement, a movement which is basically “communism with computers.” Peter Joseph proposes that capitalism cannot work because corporations create scarcity in order to drive up profits. In order to deal with the socialist calculation problem asserted by Mises, Joseph proposes that money be abolished and resources be distributed by a cabal of super computers.

The Zeitgeist Movement is, of course, ridiculous and would be worthy of a We-style caricature. Without a profit motive, a supercomputer would only get junk data, thus producing junk data. Additionally, a completely centralized power structure manifested in a single computer network would be easily corrupted by whichever people controlled the computer. Additionally, post-scarcity is an economic impossibility.

The novella’s narrative style adds tremendously to the reading experience of what is a rather unique dystopian critique of mechanistic communism. Without being able to read the novella in its original Russian, Randall’s translation is probably the closest an English speaker can get to the original experience.  All in all,  Natasha Randall’s translation of We is a feast for the literary palate.

D-503’s life changes forever when he meets a strange woman who does not always operate by the mechanics of the One State. Will the Integral survive this encounter? Will the One State remain? Find out by grabbing Randall’s translation through my Amazon Affiliate link below:

That’s it for this week’s installment of Thoughtcrime Thursdays, thanks for stopping by Liberty Weekly! Join us next week for a review of Heinlein’s The Moon is A Harsh Mistress. 

Citation: Zamyatin, Yevgeny Ivanovich, and Natasha Randall. We. London: Vintage, 2016. Print.

Source: Liberty Weekly

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