There was "WE" (1921) by Yevgeny Zamyatin
We (Russian: Мы) 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 Newcastle suburb of Jesmond, and his work in the Tyne shipyards during the First World War. It was on Tyneside that he observed the collectivization 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, 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.Plot
One thousand years after the One State's conquest of the entire world, the spaceship Integral is being built in order to invade and conquer extraterrestrial planets. Meanwhile, the project's chief engineer, D-503, begins a journal that he intends to be carried upon the completed Integral.
Like all other citizens of the One State, D-503 lives in a glass apartment building and is carefully watched by the secret police, or Bureau of Guardians. D-503's lover, who has been assigned by the One State to visit him on certain nights, is O-90. O-90, who is considered too short to bear children, is deeply grieved by her state in life.
O-90's other lover and D-503's best friend is R-13, a State poet who reads his verse at public executions.
While on an assigned walk with O-90, D-503 meets a woman named I-330. I-330 smokes cigarettes, drinks alcohol, and shamelessly flirts with D-503 instead of applying for an impersonal sex visit. All of these are highly illegal according to the laws of the One State.
Both repelled and fascinated, D-503 struggles to overcome his attraction to I-330. I-330 invites him to 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. There, I-330 offers him the services of a corrupt doctor in order to explain his absence from work. Leaving in horror, D-503 vows to denounce her to the Bureau of Guardians, but finds that he cannot.
He begins to have dreams at night, which disturbs him, as dreams are thought to be a symptom of mental illness. Slowly, I-330 reveals to D-503 that she is involved with the MEPHI, an organization plotting to bring down the One State. She takes him through secret tunnels inside the Ancient House to the world outside the Green Wall, which surrounds the city-state. There, D-503 meets the inhabitants of the outside world: humans whose bodies are covered with animal fur. The aims of the MEPHI are to destroy the Green Wall and reunite the citizens of the One State with the outside world.
Despite the recent rift between them, O-90 pleads with D-503 to impregnate her illegally. After O-90 insists that she will obey the law by turning over their child to be raised by the One State, D-503 obliges. However, as her pregnancy progresses, O-90 realizes that she cannot bear to be parted from her baby under any circumstances. At D-503's request, I-330 arranges for O-90 to be smuggled outside of the Green Wall.
In his last journal entry, D-503 indifferently relates that he has been forcibly tied to a table and subjected to the "Great Operation", (similar to a lobotomy), which has recently been mandated for all citizens of the One State, who are subjected to the operation to prevent possible riots; having been psycho-surgically refashioned into a state of mechanical "reliability", they would now function as "tractors in human form". This operation removes the imagination and emotions by targeting parts of the brain with X-rays. After this operation, D-503 willingly informed the Benefactor about the inner workings of the MEPHI. However, D-503 expresses surprise that even torture could not induce I-330 to denounce her comrades. Despite her refusal, I-330 and those arrested with her have been sentenced to death, "under the Benefactor's Machine."
Meanwhile, the MEPHI uprising gathers strength; parts of the Green Wall have been destroyed, birds are repopulating the city, and people start committing acts of social rebellion. Although D-503 expresses hope that the Benefactor shall restore "reason," the novel ends with the One State's survival in doubt. I-330's repeated mantra is that, just as there is no highest number, there can be no final revolution.
Major themesDystopian 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 Tablet"
, 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, 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.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 4711. The St. Alexander Nevsky, which was renamed Lenin after the Russian Revolution
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 O–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.
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 be considered a criticism of organised religion given this interpretation. However, Zamyatin, influenced by Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Notes from Underground and The Brothers Karamazov, made the novel a criticism of the excesses of a militantly atheistic society.
The novel uses mathematical concepts symbolically. The spaceship that 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. Zamyatin even says this through I-330: "There is no final revolution. Revolutions are infinite."Literary significance and influencesAlong 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:
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.
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.
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.
 However, in a 1962 letter to Christopher Collins, Huxley says that he wrote Brave New World as a reaction to H.G. Wells's utopias 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 Yevgeny Zamyatin's We." Ayn Rand's Anthem (1938) has many significant similarities to We (detailed here), although it is stylistically and thematically different.
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." 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." Robert 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, and 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 overactive 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.
The song "We" by progressive rock band Brazil references the Zamyatin novel on their 2004 album A Hostage and the Meaning of Life.