Friday, February 24, 2012

Yevgeny Zamyatin's WE, The 1st 1984

There is a cosmic battle going on in the head of D-503, the fictional author of the diary “We”, between Freedom and Happiness, throughout the novel. For D-503, (D-503 since nobody who lived in this futuristic Soviet Union dystopic had names, only a combination of a letter, and a number), the choice between freedom and happiness had to be exclusive. D-503 writes about “non-freedom”, an Orwellian doublethink concept, when he talks about the Bible's Adam and Eve:

Those two in paradise stood before a choice: happiness without freedom or freedom without happiness; a third choice wasn't given. They, the blockheads, they chose freedom—and then what? Understandably, for centuries, they longed for fetters. For fetters—you understand?” ... “But our boot: on his head—crunch! And there: paradise is restored. Again we are simple-hearted innocents, like Adam and Eve. No more confusion about good and evil: everything is very simple, heavenly, childishly simple. The Benefactor, the Machine, the Cube, the Gas Bell Jar, the Guardians—all these are good, all these are majestic, wonderful, noble sublime, crystal-clean. Because they guard our non-freedom—that is, our happiness.”1

In the introduction, Zamyatin is quoted as having divided the world into a reductionist perspective of only two groups: “dead-alive” and “alive-alive”. “The dead-alive also write, walk, speak, act. But they make no mistakes; only machines make no mistakes, and they produce only dead things. The alive-alive are constantly in error, in search, in questions, in torment!”2. “We” identifies a well-known behavior called “Stockholm Syndrome”, where the oppressor identifies with their oppressor, such as Amos Rucker, a black Confederate soldier, who said after the Civil War that he wanted to remain enslaved to the good white people of the South. D-503 understands that “we” is more important than “I”: “The Christians of the ancient world (our only predecessors, as imperfect as they were) also understood this: humility is a virtue and pride is a vice; “WE” is divine, and “I” is satanic”.3

D-503 knew that happiness trumped freedom with mathematical certainty, since both “Mathematics and Death: neither makes mistakes”.4 “Freedom and crime are so indissolubly connected to each other, like... well, like the movement of the aero and its velocity. When the velocity of the aero = 0, it doesn't move; when the freedom of a person = 0, he doesn't commit crime. This is clear. The sole means of ridding man of crime is to rid him of freedom”.5 “In my final moment, I will piously and gratefully kiss the punishing hand of the Benefactor”.6 Later on in the book, D-503's natural inclinations towards freedom had him questioning, “But who are “they”? And who am I: “they” or “we”? How will I know?”7.

Yevgeny Zamyatin wrote WE in 1920, after having been in the Soviet Union during the 1917 Communist Revolution. This novel points out the exact conflict that the peasants of the Soviet Union had to sort through, since they would have had mixed feelings about their nation at that time. Zamyatin saw Russian society completely altered after witnessing three centuries of the Tsar Autocratic system collapsing, which would have been liberating. But then those who took power, Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky—the Bolsheviks—for “the proletariat”, took the reins of State Power, and used it to the maximum oppressive extent, using force to maintain their legitimacy, if necessary. When Serensky and the Provisional Government, was forced out of the Soviet Union, in 1917, that was when the hope of a democratic nation for the Russian State also left, and in came in Totalitarianism, which was more repressive than the autocratic, Duma-less Tsar Russia. Lenin had the Soviets disbanded, which was anti-Marxist, and later on, Stalin assassinated all the Leninists, thusly guaranteeing an autocratic, dictatorial, totalitarian state, with deaths surpassing the deaths caused by Nazi Germany. So the conflict between freedom and happiness is the confusion that Zamyatin was feeling, because the end of the Russian Tsardom meant freedom on one hand and the efficiency of the Bolshevik Soviet Union meant “happiness” on the other hand, even if that meant slavery.

While D-503 understands his yearnings for freedom as a “sickness”, like drinking alcohol, and having wild sex with some woman who wasn't assigned to you by the Benefactor or the One State, he also offers a glimmering moment of hope when he wonders, “What if blooming is a sickness? What if it is painful when a bud bursts?”8 D-503 promises I-330 to follow her anywhere, no matter where she was taking him, which meant, at one moment in the book, D-503 was willing to follow his heart, and libido. D-503, using Mathematics, figured out that L = f(D), that Love was a function of Death.
That is why I am afraid of I-330, I struggle with her, I don't want—but how can “I don't want” and “I want” coexist in me? And the most hideous part of this is: I want yesterday's blissful death again. The hideousness of it is that, even now, when the logical function has been integrated, when it is obvious that it is implicitly composed of death, I still want her, my lips, my hands, my breast, every millimeter of me...”9

I-330 targeted D-503 because he is the Builder of the Integral, a rocket that will subdue the entire universe, just like the One State conquered the whole Earth, and she is MEPHI, an underground guerrilla organization dedicated to overthrowing the One State. D-503 references the 1917 Revolution with this passage: “Revolutions aren't possible. Because our—I am talking, not you—our revolution was the last. And there cannot be any more revolutions... Everyone knows that...”.10 I-330 explains to D-503 that “there isn't a final [Revolution]. Revolutions are infinite. Final things are for children because infinity scares children and it is important that children sleep peacefully at night...”11

I-330 also offers a more critical theory about life, by dissecting a confluence of emotions, after D-503 says that he hates the fog, since he's afraid of it. I-330, a Revolutionary Martyr, says, “that means you love it. 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”12.

Before writing this paper, I had a love for Vladamir Lenin, since, for me, he represented Socialism, but after this paper, I realize that any type of idolotry, or worship, of a person sets up on fallacious foundations, since humans are corruptible. Zamyatin's Russia shows how there was new technology, and how science was being applied to society, trying to make the working population more efficient (“Only the rational and useful are beautiful: machines, boots, formulas, food, etc.”13), but then too much Frederick Winslow Taylor efficiency can turn people into soulless, imagineless cogs of a machine. Atheism is correct, so that's advanced, but the problem arises when you worship a human being, since, without oversight, it's human nature for people to succumb to corruption. So while Vladimir Lenin had the moral appeal of Karl Marx, Lenin, once in power, used the supposedly Marxist ideology the same way that Hitler used Nazism, with State violence, and lots of bloodshed of many innocent working people, and peasants.

1Yevgeny Zamyatin, WE (New York: Random House 2006), 55
2Natasha Randall, introduction to WE by Yevgeny Zamyatin (New York: Random House 2006), xi
3Zamyatin, WE, 113
4Zamyatin, WE, 90
5Ibid, 33
6Ibid, 101
7Ibid, 128
8Zamyatin, WE, 115
9Ibid, 119
10Ibid, 153
11Ibid, 153
12Ibid, 64
13Zamyatin, WE, 44

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