Devoted to an ideal Bolshevism, Zamyatin rejoiced at the coming of the Russian Revolution in 1917. He had been jailed and exiled for anticzarist activities in 1905 and 1911, and the Petersburg District Court had interdicted publication of one of his short stories in 1913. From 1917 to 1921 Zamyatin became a leading figure in Leningrad intellectual circles, respected for the virtuosity of his work as creative artist and critic. With the introduction of the New Economic Policy in 1921, however, he came under attack from communist critics, who characterized him as a decadent, apolitical individualist who was hostile to the Revolution. The Leningrad Regional Administration of Literary and Publishing Affairs banned his verse tragedy Attila in 1928 for its anti-Soviet character, shortly after it had been warmly received by an audience that included eighteen factory directors.
In 1929, with the purge of the All-Russian Union of Writers consequent to the adoption of the First Five Year Plan, Zamyatin came under increasingly heavy criticism for the romantic individualism of his major work, the anti-utopian novel My, completed in 1921 and first published as a whole, in English translation, as We (1924). As a result of that purge, Zamyatin’s books were removed from the shelves of many Soviet libraries, and dogmatic critics were prepared to stop publication of anything new that Zamyatin might produce.
In June, 1931, Zamyatin requested of Joseph Stalin the mercy of being exiled, since “being deprived of the opportunity to write is nothing less than a death sentence.” He left for France a few months later, never to return to Russia. His We has not been published in his homeland.