Women as anti-Rationality in Zamyatin’s “We”

In Yevgeny Zamyatin’s “We,” the protagonist D-503 introduces himself as a strong supporter of the State’s ideals of rationality and un-freedom. He proudly reiterates State mantras such as “nobody is ‘one’ but ‘one of'” (7) and believes wholeheartedly that the problem of happiness has been solved through absolute, precise reason. He willingly carries out predetermined practices such as filling out a pink slip for every time he wants to have sex with O-90 and “shares” her with his best friend, yet shows no signs of emotions such as jealousy or rage at this arrangement, mainly because he identifies with the norms of his community. This is evident in D-503 claims in his second entry that he “cannot imagine a city that is not clad in a Green Wall; I cannot imagine a life that is not regulated by the figures of our Table” (10). However, once D-503 meets I-330, a woman whose views and behavior stand in opposition to the State’s mandates and ideology, his life is never the same. The role of women in “We” symbolize a force of opposition, driving D-503 further away from ideals of rationality that are enforced by the State.

1-330 is an obvious character that influences D-503’s ‘corruption’ and distancing from State ideology. Her behavior is illegal – she openly flirts with D-503 (and goes as far as to seduce him in the Ancient House), smokes cigarettes and drinks. She challenges D-503 to report her to the Guardians (secret police) for her behavior, and when D-503 does not report her, he immediately becomes a criminal. I-330 eventually introduces him to the group of humans who live beyond the wall and familiarizes him with her fellow revolutionaries. O-9, although not as adamantly opposed to the regime as 1-330 is, also directs D-503 away from rationality. When she brings him a spray of lilies of the valley, D-503 is visibly upset and berates her for not following logic. O-9 is oppressed by the State – because she does not fulfill the State mandated Maternal Requirements and is thus not allowed to have children. Her function in society is to be a sexual commodity and this status brings her pain. When she convinces D-503 to impregnate her, she brings him further away from rationality. Just as 1-330 influences D-503 to be a criminal by not reporting her, O-9 influences D-503 to be a criminal once more by refusing to give up her child.

What is Zamyatin trying to communicate by placing these women characters at odds with State rational ideology? If “We” can be read as a critique of Soviet society in the 1920s, then the women’s roles as anti-rational and emotional forces show that suppressing these elements of human kind would be detrimental to society. This potential threat to a utopian society can be interpreted as a critique of the new Soviet identity that was developing in the 1920s.

The Epiphenomenon Of Fascism

Fascist Italy did not experience the same strict adherence by its citizenry to party ideologies like Nazism or Stalinism did. People who claimed they were loyal Fascists remained more indulged in self-serving behaviors than members of the other two regimes. Many accounts of this are given in Bosworth’s Everyday Mussolinism and it leads to speculation. What reasons evoked the ubiquitous corruption under Mussolini’s rule that appears far less prevalent under Hitler and Stalin?

Mussolini’s Fascism has no definitive goal. It mentions expansionism and transformation, but does not mention to what ends. It embraces the struggles of life, but fails to redirect the energy put towards life’s battles towards a unified vision. It has almost no inherently cohesive aspects. Perhaps this lack of unifying elements attributed to Fascism’s failure to overhaul cultural priorities such as communism or Nazism did. It appears Fascism became flexibly subjective depending on who wanted to do what–and claiming to be a member of the Fascist party could be used as justifying explanation for all behaviors, especially ones that affected family.

Corruption manifested as a byproduct of both a lack of common dream and authority. The police forces under Mussolini proved incomparably calm to both the SS and NKVD. The officers could be coerced, and according to Bosworth, acted out of their own self interests rather than the states. Bosworth claims that the evidence against societal dissidents often proved vague and there appeared to be a lack of uniform method of police control.

Comparatively, this type of conspicuous and and counterproductive behavior would have been impossible to carry out under Stalin. Why was there so little corruption and so little fear under Mussolini?

Societal Aspects of Post-Kievan Rus

I believe that a lot can be learned about the society of Rus through the interpretation of legal documents such as the Novgorod Judicial Charter. As we already know the Russian Orthodox Church has played a vital role in Russian history since its introduction to the area, and this is a perfect example of the influence it had. By far the most frequently repeated phrase in this legal document is “kissing the cross”. This term referred to the act of kissing the cross as a symbol of a litigants promise to tell the truth during a court case. While this is similar to our modern system of swearing on the Bible, it would mean drastically more to an ancient society which revolved around religion.

This document also shows the considerable power that the Church itself wielded at the time. Like in previous legal codes, the Novgorod Charter states that a portion of fines leveed on criminals would be sent to the archbishop as well as his lieutenant and the steward. This meant that the Church more than likely commanded vast wealth at this point and would have owned large amounts of property coming from criminals who were unable to pay their fines.

Another aspect of this document that I found incredibly interesting was the equality that was commanded by the document. The first rule stated is that “everyone is to be judged equally, whether boyar, [a man of] middling means, or a poor man [lit., a young man]. While we cannot always tell how often these rules were enforced, this shows a clear attempt to give all freemen a legal equality that would not have been seen in other parts of the world at this point in time. However, it should be noted that while this court system seemed to be set up fairly, it revolved around witness testimony, something that has historically been a problem. Not only does your memory change over time, it would not be difficult to bribe or intimidate somebody to say that you were right in your argument.

The Future of Russia’s Higher Education

Check out this article in The Moscow Times on the future of Russian universities.

Mark Nuckols, a journalist for Moscow Times, points out how Russian universities have not cracked the top 200 universities in the world for another year in a row. Nuckols points to several facts that explain this.

For one, funding universities requires an efficient bureaucracy to coordinate the various in-flows of money. Russia is not well known for this bureaucratic organization.

Russian universities have a higher level of corruption and distrust, creating a poor environment for research and collaboration.

US universities have also collaborated closely with industries and businesses, providing both funding and incentive for innovations.

Top-notch professors in Russia seek employment at the worlds best universities–which as the aforementioned ranking tells us, does not include any Russian universities. Conversely, very few western academics seek employment in Russia due to the less liberal society and restricting laws.

Nuckols goes on to explore potential ways Russia could reverse this trend, but the picture he paints isn’t too optimistic. What does this mean for Russia’s future?