Zamyatin was an engineer and at the same time keenly interested in literature, particularly experimental writing and science fiction. He had read and written extensively on British author H. G. Wells, and We is in part a negative answer to Wells’s optimistic belief, expressed in the British novelist’s book The World Set Free: A Story of Mankind (1914), that physics could replace religion as the basis of a moral code.

We is also a biting satire on the teachings of the new Communist rulers and writers of Russia following the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Communist propagandists virtually worshiped the machine and claimed that humanity would be happier the more it came to work like a large machine—that is, logically, with no caprices of free will on the part of the pieces that make up the machine.

Probably the strongest influence on Zamyatin’s thought came from Russian literature and a work by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881) called “The Grand Inquisitor,” which was actually a chapter from his last novel, The Brothers Karamazov (1880). Here all the moral questions of We can be found in one form or another: the value of free will versus the stifling imposition of order by some authority; the willingness of most people, no matter the cost, to follow whoever promises peace and freedom from want; the need of all people to believe in something; and the unavoidable changes that all beliefs undergo...

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