As I speak of Orwell, it’s worth pointing out, though a bit fruitlessly, like all utopias, dystopias have a tendency to be interpreted both by contemporaries, or consistently misused by later generations for their own purposes and for their own goals. George Orwell’s 1984 is one of the most famous examples of a piece of literature, a dystopian novel indeed, but also a grim, hyperbolic satire, frequently misinterpreted. Lefties overuse the novel as if it were some sort of fetish, brandish Orwellian about and yell at everyone that we are being watched and controlled…and then confide in everyone that Orwell was a genius and a prophet. He was neither, and wasn’t even a particularly well written novel, and not even all that interesting. But it was a satire, something the right doesn’t get either. Whether we have the idiotic editorials in my local right-wing newspaper, The Source,that by-laws against dogs crapping on peoples lawns as Orwellian and the pathetic triumphalism of the Right who use Orwell to attack and denigrate all socialism. Of course, they ignore that Orwell was a socialist himself, an elitist true, with a slippery tendency to change tacks, rat out his friends and take a dim view of women and browner peoples (no wonder Christopher Hitchens likes him so much) but a socialist nonetheless…or he wouldn’t have wrote that “if there is hope, it lies in the proles.” 1984 is as much an attack of the weakness and easily led intelligent classes, that the best educated are often the easiest to lie too, against all forms of oppression.
What does this have to do with Zamyatin’s We? Well, two things: one, Zamyatin’s novel has also been lauded as an anti-Soviet, anti-totalitarian masterpiece, and two, Orwell was heavily influenced, and almost certainly cribbed several story ideas from Zamyatin, including the idylls in the countryside that play so important a part in both books. Both men viewed unspoilt nature as being a place free and untainted by politics and oppression.
Zamyatin’s novel is also noted as being a science fiction novel, one of the first science fiction dystopias. Both utopia and dystopia have been a particularly well studied as literary phenomena, and indeed Utopian Studies is a particular field outside but related to both Literature, with a bent on the science fiction, and Politics, as such. One of the more famous students of utopia is Marxist and hater of post modernism Frederic Jamieson, whose work Archaeologies of the Future is both something I want to finish reading and a very nice descriptions of what science fiction is and what utopia can be. Jamieson’s main contention, though highly obfuscated, and I fail to do it justice in any way (it is a tome, and a tomb, for any one not versed in houti-touti intellectual Marxism) is that all political