Deities of Derivatives

In Zamyatin’s bizarre and ingeniously sobering novel of “We”, ((Zamyatin, Yevgeny. We. New York: Modern Library, 2006.)) rationality triumphs emotion as mathematics reigns as the supreme dogma of the individual’s life and mind. Of course, in this case, the term “individual” refers to the collective mass of workers known as ciphers who exist as mere figures in the long string of omnipotent code that is the dull and gray One State. Freedom is condemned as an uncouth crime while whimsical dreams and fits of inspiration are cruelly filed under the category of epileptic anomaly. The hero, and eventual martyr, of the story is D-503, a thirty-two-year-old cipher who is in charge of building the Integral, a marvelous product of modern science and technology purposefully constructed in order to integrate extraterrestrial societies into the blissful monotony of the One State. D-503 venerates mathematics and the exquisitely logical “Table” that dictates every hour of his daily life apart from his sexual, and even that is governed by the rules of “Paternal & Maternal Norms” and pink tickets. His life changes drastically as he is violently birthed into a world of vibrant color and independent thought propagated by a female cipher, I-330, who quite literally grasps him by his shaggy, primitive-like hands and pulls him out.

New, revolutionary ideologies spread within D-503 like a cancer, resulting in the proliferation of disinformation and disaggregation that are so dreadfully toxic to the prosperity of the One State. The cast-iron hands that of the Benefactor that seem to preside over all are defied, rejecting one of the core principles of the later Russian Revolution; the worship of industry and enthrallment of efficiency, as seen through the famed ideas of Taylor the economist that are so imbued within the novel. Zamyatin sees the dark side of the revolution, and generates an unsettling world that causes one to fear philosophies such as that of the poet Kirillov in his work The Iron Messiah. ((Kirillov, Iron Messiah)) The novel continuously examines the effects of antireligion, in which old, conservative traditions are ironically replaced with new progressive ideals embodied in the exaltation of mathematics and machinery. Through the terror of the guardians and vice-like grip of Communism, the people are forced to march along with eyes lowered and minds shut. Nonetheless, the subjugation by the One State of its people is not infinite; as per the existence of the irrational root of negative 1, there will always exist a number that rational governance is unable to enslave.

Cold Truths: The Failed Decembrist Revolution

The Decembrist movement, named after the month of the failed revolution, was a movement championed by military men of higher standing from educated backgrounds.  The leaders of the movement were officers who couched their positions in the military amidst assumed political responsibility derived from positions in secret societies.  The “Northern Society,” responsible for the formation in the Senate Square in St. Petersburg, kept the rank and file men supporting them unaware of the purpose for their insurrection.  The “Southern Society,” in Ukraine, was much more inclusive, ideologically speaking, allowing the soldiers at the bottom to understand their goals in rebellion.

The Decembrists sought general improvements of government administration and the betterment of the lives of commoners, but lacked specific plans to achieve these goals.  The Decembrists intended to lessen the burden of serfdom on the lowest levels of society, but failed to actually craft plans to that end.  The movement featured a belief in the responsibility of the soldiers to serve the state as an entity separate to the ruler, marking the first time in Russian history a major political group marked a difference between the two.

For all its lofty ideals, the movement ultimately saw only failure.  The defiance in St. Petersburg was hindered by confusion and failure to receive support from additional units, while uprisings in Southern Russia met only slaughter at the hands of loyalist units.  Given the confusion surrounding the whole affair, it is understandable that so little success was borne out by the revolutionaries, who were largely isolated, both physically and in terms of the information available to them.


Revolutionaries are those who stand up for what they believe in and fight for their political rights and beliefs. They must be held to complete secrecy. This secrecy allows for further planning and for ideas to progress without prevention. While reading What is to be Done, 1902 by Lenin, He establishes that revolutionaries are an essential part of forming the revolution. During this, he greatly discusses how he disagrees in every aspect with the economist’s perspective. Lenin believed that there are a list of standards that must be met in order for there to be a true revolution. These rules and standards enforce structure as well as leaders guidance. These leaders will help set the rules and regulations. Lenin believed that these revolutionaries should be giving their full attention to this revolution. This revolution should be their profession. He believed in no distractions.Lenin wanted as many organizations as possible to get involved but not to confuse the idea of a revolution with other illegal activities such as readings that were not supposed to be read. Lenin explains that those who are not willing to put in the effort and fight for what they believe in are not revolutionaries.

Lenin – Mouthpiece for the Future

Vladmir Lenin, a Russian Communist and revolutionary, was one of the most crucial, yet controversial, individuals of the twentieth century. Despite being born into a wealthy middle class family, he became interested in socialism and communism after Russian officials executed his brother in 1887.[1] Lenin wrote the text, What is to Be Done, just before the split of his party, the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, into the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks.[2] In his writing, Lenin depicted the type of revolutionary and system of organization that he wanted most and thought would work the best. He argued that the list of potential revolutionaries should be as wide and public as possible, that is, inclusive not solely of the working class, but others that wanted to join the cause as well. Lenin envisioned having revolutionaries based in multiple sectors of society. Furthermore, Lenin wanted his revolutionaries to treat the situation as an additional profession, if not their only profession. That meant that individuals who wished to become revolutionaries had to go through training and learn the necessary skills to be reliable and efficient. Lenin believed that if revolutionaries were trained, the organization would be harder to track down and it would allow more people to join up.  Lastly, Lenin emphasized that revolutionaries need to be willing to organize and work together, promoting stability; and thus allowing leaders to maintain continuity. Lenin concluded with a plea that demonstrated that too many current “revolutionaries” were using excuses and were not trained enough to complete their assignments. With his efficient system in place, Lenin believed that the revolution would work out better and that there would be no excuses for failure.

What makes Lenin’s theories so intriguing is that he essentially wants his revolutionaries to be trained like police officers or those in the military. While Lenin was not the first necessarily to propose this idea, it is apparent that other revolutions do not carry this form of revolutionary organization. Peasants and factory workers carried out the French Revolution. Factory workers especially pushed through the Revolutions of 1848. What’s further intriguing is that Lenin lays out a modern take on how to carry out a revolution. From the French resistance movement in WWII to the Chinese Communist Revolution, future revolutionaries follow Lenin’s guidelines. Furthermore, terrorist cells today are run on the exact same principles: include everyone you can who is willing, train them well, and respect authority, so as to keep stability and continuity. While Lenin may not be the first to try these tactics, it is his role as a mouthpiece to and for the future that makes his ideas so important.


Question for Commenters: Are there any other examples of those who may follow Lenin’s ideas on what it means to be a revolutionary?

[1] “Vladmir Lenin.” Wikipedia. Accessed March 24, 2015.

[2] Ibid.

What Makes a Revolution

In Lenin’s What Makes a Revolution, he discussed the differences between the economic and socialist view of a revolutionary. His friend, an economist, discussed revolutionaries in terms of trade unions and mutual aid societies. However, a true revolutionary, in the eyes of Lenin, is far more than a union member. Unions, while they may be illegal, still have certain standards they must uphold. In addition, unions have goals such as improving wages or working conditions, but they do not seek to change to system entirely. Revolutionaries, seek to create radical change, and must operate in secrecy. Revolutionaries are not simply men who are angered by current conditions. Rather, they are men trained in the art, so to speak, of revolutions. They have practice in spreading the revolutionary message, while keeping the organization itself as secretive as possible. Revolutionaries need the support of the working class, although revolutionary leaders are necessary to organize the outrage and make the revolution a success. Choosing specific leaders may seem undemocratic, although Lenin believed establishing a core group of leaders was needed to accomplish the goals of a revolution. A revolutionary may be involved in labor politics, but union organizers are not necessarily revolutionaries. Revolution, not factory work, must be a revolutionary’s full-time occupation. Training is necessary in establishing an effective revolution because outrage needs to be harnessed and exploited in order to affect change. A worker who protests the long working conditions will be appeased by a ten-hour workday. A true revolutionary, however, cannot be appeased by minor changes, and will continue to protest until the system has been dramatically changed.


Is the One State Practical?

Yevgeny Zamyatin’s “We” is an iconic example of a dystopian society that is threatened by individuality.  The One State and its inhabitants were a supposed perfect population who had found happiness through conformity and rationality.  The citizens of the One State were kept under the watchful eye of the Benefactor as well as his secret police force, the Guardians.  In order to eliminate individuality, people were given numbers instead of names (D-503 and I-330), as well as a large sum of rules and regulations to abide by throughout their lives.  From dawn to dusk, and even into the night, the people of the One State were told when to wake, when to sleep, when to eat and when to take breaks.  Social interactions, even how to conduct one’s sex life, were all regulated by the Benefactor.  D-503 was the submissive One State citizen turned hesitant revolutionary and ultimately returned to mindless member of the One State, and although he was the main character of the novel, my interest lies in the Benefactor and his view of how society should function.

According to the Benefactor, the population before becoming the One State “wanted someone, anyone, to tell them once and for all what happiness [was].”  People wanted a paradise where there was no love, pity, or desire.  A society where everyone is healthy, works efficiently, and believes in the vision of the One State is required to make this a reality.  The ideology of the Benefactor is exceptionally clear and in my opinion would in theory work in a small scale system, however implementing a system like the One State on a large scale is impossible.  Love, pity, and desire are all fundamental pieces of human emotion that may be able to be controlled for a small few, however with a population as large as the One State, a system like that does not function.  When the quantity of people living together is that great, the same effect arises as did in the Russian Revolution of 1917.  The proximity of people to one another encourages the spreading of ideas, which is exactly what occurred in Zamyatin’s “We”.  After reading the novel, I was left with the question: after seeing countries fail to achieve perfect communist systems, on what scale would a system like the One State be a practical solution to human unhappiness and individuality?

Fichte’s new Germany

Johann Gottlieb Fichte, was a Germany Philosopher, and reformer, who was also a great supporter of the French Revolution. Fichte would have been considered a liberal at the time who wanted to see the lower classes rise up, and take a portion of prosperity for themselves. His ideals came from the area of Europe in which he lived. Fichte was a resident of Berlin, which was not part of one specific nation. Berlin was much like an Italian City-State during the Renaissance because it was not always under control of one nation or kingdom.

The Germany that we know today did not exist in anyway what so ever. The region that is called Germany today was a collection of over thirty different states that were never autonomous with each other. Napoleon was the first man to unite the German states into a specific body, the Confederation of the Rhine. This action started to bring German speakers together.

This increase in the idea that people who had the same language, customs, and cultural identity could be a nation was new, but one that soon became very popular with German citizens of the many different states. Fichte’s proto-nationalism was widely read, and his writings, and the writings of many other early 19th century thinkers became the “bibles” of the great nation builders such as Otto Von Bismark in Germany, and Garibaldi in Italy.

A Supportive and Integrated Revolution

The French Revolution was in itself, a catalyst for political and cultural change. The classes; clergy, nobles, and third estate were amongst a ruler that had no interest in creating change that benefited all. Thus, the third estate and other groups banded together to influence the changes in their society. These changes were a necessity to bring about the new political and cultural views that were seen in this new society, from a new calendar system to the way individuals wore their clothing. These individuals wanted no reminder of what oppression was before them, they only wanted to alter their culture for future generations to come.

Robespierre argued in “The Cult of the Supreme Being”, that this revolution attempted “to totally transform human society in every way”. His piece instilled in the people, more of the will to fight by believing in a higher power, no matter what religion an individual followed. The same argument goes “La Marseillaise”, as the writing in this French national anthem allows an individual to hone in on their own experiences and express a sense of pride for what they may be fighting for. In this case the third estate saw to it to take a stand on what they thought was right. Moreover, inverting the power system was a great shift in control for the third estate, since they were the minority and became the majority. The core concept of equality became a more integral part of the French society. This French revolt was a classic example of a strong catalyst for a necessary change.

Questions to Consider:

1.) What would it take for the minority to overthrow or influence the majority?( i.e What other lingering factors must a one group do to influence the other?)

2.) What examples of revolt, depicted in the French Revolution do we see in a more modern society?

Socio-Economic Change and The Rise of The Avant-Garde in Russia

When asked about Russian art the mind typically thinks of Byzantine Russian icons or matruschki dolls, not the ground breaking art made by the avant-garde artists of the early twentieth century.  In reality, however, there was an artistic explosion in Russia from 1907-1917. But how did this artistic revolution develop in a country commonly ignored by Western Europe?

By the early twentieth century, economic change had come to Russia but the old soslovie social system remained the same. This resulted in the awakening of the lower class and the development of an intelligentsia. The turmoil and changes the country was experiencing created the perfect environment for creativity, experimentation, and individual expression. This perfect storm of turmoil and creativity spawned a new breed of artist that not only rebelled against the metaphors and mysticism of the Symbolists, but also rejected the established esthetics. By rejecting all known and common conventions of art a new liberation and independence among the arts was discovered in Russia. Artists explored new styles at a ferocious pace and kept pushing the boundaries further and further.   From the creation of Primitivism to the development of Suprematist theory, these artists were relentless. This led to a dissipation of the artificial lines separating the different forms of art, resulting in creative collaborations between poets and painters, and composer and choreographers.

One of the best examples of this is The Rite of Spring, a collaboration organized by Diaglev with Vaslav Nijinsky and Igor Stravinsky for the Ballets Russes. The choreography by Nijinsky challenged traditional ballet and exceeded it limits. The dramatic angular and choppy movements expressed the heart of Stravinsky’s radical musical score. Nijinsky also used the imperfect form in his choreography having dancers freeze in unnatural angular shapes or with pigeon toed feet. The storyline of a young girl being chosen as a sacrifice and dancing herself to death after pagan rituals celebrating the advent of spring was also an atypical story line for the ballet. The avant-garde and revolutionary nature of The Right of Spring lead to riots in Paris and upheaval in Russian audiences. These riots are omens of future change, turmoil, and revolution in Europe.


The Magic Lantern: 3,2,1…

This book is a composition of 5 essays; the first four are Timothy Ash’s first- hand accounts of the East European “Revolutions” in in Poland, Hungary, East Germany and Czechoslovakia, and the fifth and last essay is his conclusions based on the observations he made in the first four essays.

Main points:

■ As a historical observer, Ash describes meeting opposition leaders, and the evolvement of the Solidarity movement as an opposition to the Eastern Bloc (AKA Soviet Bloc). This was a social movement in Poland that used methods of civil resistance to promote cause such as workers’ rights as well as social change.

■ Ash shows how the democratic movements succeeded one another in a way that proved inevitability. He gives perspective on the natural procession of movements throughout Eastern Europe and uses experiences from individual accounts to depict the events. He tells a story of a German who crossed the border several times just for the hell of it after the wall was taken down. He also includes narratives of East Berlin residents picking up their 100 Deutschmarks (“greeting money”), and going shopping.

■ Ash reveals his small contribution to the revolutions after meeting Václav Havel in the backroom of a pub he frequented. He had told Havel “In Poland it took ten years, in Hungary ten months, in East Germany ten weeks: perhaps in Czechoslovakia it will take ten days!”, to which Havel responded by summoning over a camera team. This opened up the doors for Ash to the “Magic Lantern” theater; the headquarters of the main opposition coalition in the Czech lands, the Civic Forum, and therefore the revolution. This allowed Ash inside access to decisions in regards to the revolutions.

■ Although Ash gives the reader a variety of plausible theories as to the cause of these revolutions, he proposes his own explanation  in three words–“Gorbachev, Helsinki and Tocqueville”; the amalgamation of Soviet liberalization, a global understanding of human rights and the absence of a rational right to rule were all factors that caused the revolutions in Eastern Europe.


■ How did Ash’s political involvement in the revolutions affect his historical account and interpretation?

■ Ash’s presentation of the natural procession of the movements makes them seem logical, even obvious. How come these changes to Eastern Europe weren’t predicted?


■ Ash never produces a complete comprehensible theory of the political shift in Europe or pretends to know the answers to the many questions it raises. He does, however, substantially articulate the questions that need answering.