Orwell finds that Huxley’s novel must have been “derived” from Zamyatin’s and that Zamyatin’s view is more pertinent to our times. We is not a metaphorical novel about a totalitarian dictatorship–Zamyatin did not target any particular country, even though while living in Britain he had written a satire on British life, The Islanders–but a novel about “the implied aims of industrial civilisation”. (FREEDOM AND HAPPINESS (REVIEW OF ‘WE’ BY YEVGENY ZAMYATIN) George Orwell)
Gleb Struve clarifies that, in his view, Zamyatin did have “in mind” both the Soviet Union and “the dominant spirit of our machine age” (GLEB STRUVE ON WE AND ZAMYATIN, published by the Orwell Foundation). Struve does not appear to be citing anything that Zamyatin said and it may be that Struve, as a Russian emigre, expresses his own frustrations, missing Zamyatin’s larger point.
Written in 1923, Zamyatin’s story takes place in the 26th century. It is now approximately 100 years since the time of composition; we still have about 400 years to go until we reach Zamytin’s imagined times. Orwell read the story in 1946.
We recommend Zamyatin’s We and Orwell’s retelling of it in his brief Freedom and Happiness.
Orwell’s words “the implied aims of industrial civilisation” could be rephrased as a possible and likely, logical progression of it. In the interview that follows below, James K. Galbraith offers a concise and clear overview of some of the socio-economic developments since Zamyatin’s times until now and the evolution of the science of economics accompanying these developments; the discussion highlights how close we have been to the path that may well lead to Zamyatin’s predicted state and provides a practical, economist’s perspective to the artist’s vision.