We (novel)

We (novel)
Cover of the Penguin Classics translation of We
Author(s) Yevgeny Zamyatin
Original title Мы
Translator Various; See here for a list
Cover artist Georgii Petrusov, Caricature of Aleksander Rodchenko (1933–1934)
Country Soviet Union
Language Russian
Genre(s) Dystopian novel, science fiction
Publisher Penguin Books
Publication date 1920–1921 (written); 1988 (pub'd in USSR); 1993 (Penguin ed.)
Published in
Media type Print (hardcover and paperback)
Pages 226
ISBN 0-14-018585-2
OCLC Number 27105637
Dewey Decimal 891.73/42 20
LC Classification PG3476.Z34 M913 1993
1924 first edition cover, E.P. Dutton, New York.
1924 first edition, translated by Gregory Zilboorg, New York.

We (Russian: Мы) is a dystopian novel by Yevgeny Zamyatin completed in 1921.[1] 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 Newcastle suburb of Jesmond, and his 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. The novel was first published in 1924 by E.P. Dutton in New York in an English translation.



We is set in the future. D-503 lives in the One State,[2] an urban nation constructed almost entirely of glass, which allows the secret police/spies to inform on and supervise the public more easily. The structure of the state is analogous to the prison design concept developed by Jeremy Bentham commonly referred to as the Panopticon. Furthermore, 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.


D-503, a State mathematician, is the chief engineer in a project to build the Integral, a spaceship that will bring the "great flywheel of logic" to other planets and help the One State conquer the solar system, having already conquered the world.

D-503's girlfriend is O-90. His friend R-13, a State poet, is employed to write songs in praise of the State.

D-503 meets I-330, a woman who dresses erotically and teases and entices him instead of sleeping with him in an impersonal fashion. D-503 becomes obsessed with I-330. D-503 and I-330 visit a public execution, and also visit the Ancient House, notable for being the only opaque building in the One State, except for windows. Objects of aesthetic and historical importance, dug up from around the city, are stored there.

He begins to have dreams at night, which disturbs him, as dreams are irrational and thought to be a symptom of mental illness. Slowly, I-330 reveals to D-503 that she is involved with the Mephi, a group plotting to bring down the state. She takes him through secret tunnels to the world outside the Green Wall surrounding the city-state, showing him the inhabitants of the outside world: humans whose bodies are covered with fur.

At the novel's end, D-503 is subjected to the "Great Operation" (similar to a lobotomy),[3] that has recently been mandated for the whole population of the One State. This operation removes the imagination by striking a certain region of the brain with x-rays. After this operation, D-503 watches the torture and execution of I-330 with equanimity. Meanwhile the Mephi revolt gathers strength; part of the Green Wall has been destroyed, 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[4] and is surrounded by a giant Green Wall to separate the citizens from primitive untamed nature. All citizens are known as "numbers".[5]

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".[6] The War was over a rare substance never mentioned in the book but it could be about petroleum, 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 weapons of mass destruction, 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.[7] 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."[8] 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.[9]

Literary significance and influences

Along with Jack London's The Iron Heel, We is generally considered to be the grandfather of the satirical futuristic dystopia genre. 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.

Christopher Collins in Evgenij Zamjatin: An Interpretive Study finds the many intriguing literary aspects of We more interesting and relevant today than the political aspects:

  1. An examination of myth and symbol reveals that the work may be better understood as an internal drama of a conflicted modern man rather than as a representation of external reality in a failed utopia. The city is laid out as a mandala, populated with archetypes and subject to an archetypal conflict. One wonders if Zamyatin were familiar with the theories of his contemporary C. G. Jung or whether it is a case here of the common European zeitgeist.
  2. Much of the city scape and expressed ideas in the world of We are taken almost directly from the works of H. G. Wells, the (then) very popular apostle of scientific socialist utopia whose works Zamyatin had edited in Russian.
  3. In the use of color and other imagery Zamyatin shows he had breathed the same subjectivist air as had Kandinsky and other European Expressionist painters.

George Orwell averred that Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932) must be partly derived from We.[10] However, in a 1962 letter to Christopher Collins, Huxley says that he wrote Brave New World as a reaction to H.G. Wells' utopias long before he had heard of We.[11] According to We translator Natasha Randall, Orwell believed that Huxley was lying.[12] 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 Yevgeny Zamyatin's We."[13]

Ayn Rand's Anthem (1938) has several similarities to We, although it is stylistically and thematically different.[14]

George Orwell began Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) some eight months after he read We in a French translation and wrote a review of it.[15] Orwell is reported as "saying that he was taking it as the model for his next novel."[16] Brown writes that for Orwell and certain others, We "appears to have been the crucial literary experience."[17] Shane states that "Zamyatin's influence on Orwell is beyond dispute".[18] 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."[11]

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.[19]

Jerome K. Jerome has been cited as an influence on Zamyatin’s novel.[20] Jerome’s short essay "The New Utopia" (1891)[21] 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 Goskomizdat, the new Soviet censorship bureau, in 1921, though the initial draft dates to 1919.[citation needed] 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 by E.P. Dutton in New York in a translation by Gregory Zilboorg,[22] but its first publication in the Soviet Union had to wait until 1988,[23] when glasnost resulted in it appearing alongside George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. A year later We and Brave New World were published together in a combined edition.[24]

In 1994, the novel received a Prometheus Award in the "Hall of Fame" category.[25]

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[26] and the name of S-4711 is a reference to the Eau de Cologne number 4711.[27]

The St. Alexander Nevsky, which was renamed Lenin after the Russian Revolution.

Zamyatin, who worked as a naval architect,[28] 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.[29][30]

There are literary allusions to Dostoyevsky, particularly Notes from Underground and The Brothers Karamazov, and to The Bible.[31]

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.[citation needed] The novel itself could be considered a criticism of organised religion given this interpretation.[31] However, Zamyatin, apparently in line with Dostoyevsky, made the novel a criticism of the excesses of a deterministic, atheistic (Godless) society.[32]

The novel uses mathematical concepts symbolically. The spaceship 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 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."[33]


  1. ^ Brown, p. xi, citing Shane, gives 1921. Russell, p. 3, dates the first draft to 1919.
  2. ^ 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).
  3. ^ Erich Fromm's afterword to Nineteen Eighty-Four.
  4. ^ Ginsburg trans. This term is also translated as "Well-Doer".[citation needed] Benefactor translates Blagodetel (Russian: Благодетель).
  5. ^ Ginsburg trans. This is also translated as "cyphers".[citation needed] 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. ^ a b Russell, p. 13.
  12. ^ "Leonard Lopate Show". WNYC. August 18, 2006. http://www.wnyc.org/shows/lopate/episodes/2006/08/18.  (radio interview with We translator Natasha Randall)
  13. ^ Playboy interview with Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., July 1973.
  14. ^ Gimpelevich, Zina (1997). "‘We’ and ‘I’ in Zamyatin's We and Rand's Anthem". Germano-Slavica 10 (1): 13–23. 
  15. ^ Orwell (1946). Russell, p. 13.
  16. ^ Bowker (p. 340) paraphrasing Rayner Heppenstall.
    Bowker, Gordon (2003). Inside George Orwell: A Biography. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 0-312-23841-X. 
  17. ^ Brown trans., Introduction, p. xvi.
  18. ^ Shane, p. 140.
  19. ^ Wolfe, Tom (2001). The Right Stuff. Bantam. ISBN 0553381350.  "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.
  20. ^ Stenbock-Fermor.
  21. ^ Published in Diary of a Pilgrimage (and Six Essays).(full text)
  22. ^ In a translation by Zilboorg,
  23. ^ Brown translation, p. xiv. Tall notes that glasnost resulted in many other literary classics being published in the USSR during 1988-1989.
  24. ^ Tall, footnote 1.
  25. ^ "Libertarian Futurist Society: Prometheus Awards". http://www.lfs.org/awards.htm. Retrieved 22 March 2011. 
  26. ^ Randall, p. xvii.
  27. ^ Ermolaev.
  28. ^ Shane, p 12.
  29. ^ Myers.
  30. ^ "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]))
  31. ^ a b Gregg.
  32. ^ The Curve of the Sacred: An Exploration of Human Spirituality by Constantin V. Ponomareff; Kenneth A. Bryson Publisher: Editions Rodopi BV ISBN 90-420-2031-8 ISBN 978-90-420-2031-3 http://books.google.com/books?id=hpXf4r_Zg68C&pg=PA20&lpg=PA20&dq=Yevgeny+Zamyatin+atheism&source=bl&ots=btRMauNNNG&sig=OZP9e3P_O9OLWDWcQOG282gGvgY&hl=en&ei=Wyt6Sq24Cd-Ltgelq4HzAQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=8#v=onepage&q=&f=false
  33. ^ Ginsburg, Introduction, p. v. The Thirtieth Entry has a similar passage.



  • Zamyatin, Yevgeny (1924). We. Gregory Zilboorg (trans.). New York: Dutton. ISBN 0882331388.  [1]
  • Zamjatin, Jevgenij Ivanovič (1927). My. Václav Koenig (trans.). Prague (Praha): Štorch-Marien.  (Czech) [2]
  • Zamâtin, Evgenij Ivanovic (1929). Nous autres. B. Cauvet-Duhamel (trans.). Paris: Gallimard.  (French) [3]
  • Zamiatin, Eugene (1954). We. Gregory Zilboorg (trans.). New York: Dutton. ISBN 8446026724. 
  • Zamjàtin, Evgenij (1955). Noi. Ettore Lo Gatto (trans.). Bergamo (Italy): Minerva Italica.  (Italian)
  • Zamyatin, Yevgeny (1972 repr. 1999). We. Mirra Ginsburg (trans.). New York: EOS HarperCollins. ISBN 0-380-63313-2. 
  • Zamyatin, Yevgeny (1972). We. Bernard Guilbert Guerney (trans.). UK: Penguin Books. ISBN 0882331388. 
  • Zamjatin, Evgenij Ivanovič (1975). Mi. Drago Bajt (trans.). Ljubljana (Slovenia): Cankarjeva založba. 
  • Zamyatin, Evgeny (1987). We. S.D. Cioran (trans.). USA: Ardis. ISBN 0882338218. 
  • Zamjàtin, Evgenij (1990). Noi. Ettore Lo Gatto (trans.). Milano (Italy): Feltrinelli. ISBN 88-07-80412-3.  (Italian)
  • Zamyatin, Yevgenij (1988). BİZ. Füsun Tülek (trans.). İstanbul (Turkey): Ayrıntı.  (Turkish)
  • Zamyatin, Evgeny (1991). We. Alex Miller (trans.). Moscow: Raduga. ISBN 5-05-004845-1. 
  • Zamyatin, Yevgeny (1993). We. Clarence Brown (trans.). New York: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-018585-2.  (preview)
  • Zamiatin, Eugene (2000). We. Gregory Zilboorg (trans.). USA: Transaction Large Print. ISBN 1-56000-477-0.  (author photo on cover)
  • Zamyatin, Yevgeny (2006). We. Natasha Randall (trans.). Modern Library. ISBN 0-8129-7462-X. 
  • Zamjatyin, Jevgenyij (1990/2008). Mi. Pál Földeák (trans.). Budapest (Hungary): Cartaphilus. ISBN 978-963-266-038-7.  (Hungarian)

Russian language editions

The first complete Russian language edition of We was published in New York in 1952. (Brown, p. xiv, xxx)
  • Zamiatin, Evgenii Ivanovich (1967). My. vstupitel'naya stat'ya Evgenii Zhiglevich, stat'ya posleslovie Vladimira Bondarenko. New York: Inter-Language Literary Associates. ISBN 5739003466.  (Russian)
  • Zamiatin, Evgenii Ivanovich (1988). Selections. sostaviteli T.V. Gromova, M.O. Chudakova, avtor stati M.O. Chudakova, kommentarii Evg. Barabanova. Moskva: Kniga. ISBN 5-212-00084-X.  (Russian) (bibrec) (bibrec (Russian))
We was first published in the USSR in this collection of Zamyatin's works. (Brown, p. xiv, xxx)
  • Zamyatin, Yevgeny; Andrew Barratt (1998). Zamyatin: We. Bristol Classical Press. ISBN 1853993786.  (also cited as Zamyatin: We, Duckworth, 2006) (Russian) (English)
Edited with Introduction and Notes by Andrew Barratt. Plain Russian text, with English introduction, bibliography and notes.

Online works



  • Russell, Robert (1999). Zamiatin's We. Bristol: Bristol Classical Press. ISBN 978-1853993930. 
  • Shane, Alex M. (1968). The life and works of Evgenij Zamjatin. Berkeley: University of California Press. OCLC 441082. 
  • Zamyatin, Yevgeny (1992). A Soviet Heretic: Essays. Mirra Ginsburg (editor and translator). Northwestern University Press. ISBN 978-0810110915. 
  • Collins, Christopher (1973). Evgenij Zamjatin: An Interpretive Study. The Hague: Mouton & Co.. 

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. (Russian)


The German TV network ZDF adapted the novel for a TV movie in the 1980s, under the German title "Wir."


Montreal company Théâtre Deuxième Réalité produced an adaptation of the novel, adapted and directed by Alexandre Marine in 1996 under the title Nous Autres[1].


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