How Not to Network a Nation. The Uneasy History of the Soviet Internet

(Ben Green) #1

108 Chapter 4

the vision, the chief visionary (Viktor Glushkov) and his team, and the
institutional landscape for the OGAS Project, the most prominent attempt
to establish a civilian national network project in the Soviet Union.

The OGAS: A Vast Vision behind a Global-Local Network

The OGAS Project promised to deliver “electronic socialism” that was as
ambitious as its official title was long—the All-State Automated System for
the Gathering and Processing of Information for the Accounting, Planning,
and Governance of the National Economy, USSR. Its short names were the
All-State Automated System for the Management of the Economy, the All-
State Automated System, and OGAS. For clarity, I distinguish here between
the OGAS as the imagined network that did not come to exist and the OGAS
Project as the Soviet actors and institutions that tried to realize this reform.
According to its cyberneticist founders, the infrastructure of the com-
mand economy had to be upgraded before the entrenched coordination
problems that led to the country’s economic woes could be resolved. “In
the area of economic management,” Glushkov wrote in 1962, “cybernetics
fits our socialist planned economy like a glove.”^2 The work was fundamen-
tally technocratic and rational and sought to “reduce the influence of the
subjective factor in the making of administrative decisions.”^2
In its most modest framing, the OGAS—which stretched nationwide
across preexisting and new telephony wires that were entirely separate
from preexisting military computer networks—appears little more than the
extension of a local factory control computer network. It would be an ASU
(automated system of management) or OGASU (All-State ASU) (Obshche-
Gosudarstvennaya Avtomatizirovannya Sistema Upravleniya). The primary
visionary of the OGAS, Viktor Glushkov (who is discussed later in this chap-
ter), had been aware of Anatoly Kitov’s efforts, including his Red Book letter,
ever since Glushkov began studying computing in Kiev with Kitov’s 1956
Digital Computing Machines in hand. Glushkov employed Kitov as a consul-
tant in 1960 after Kitov’s dismissal from the army. The OGAS was to become
the Soviet equivalent of the national economy imagined as a single factory,
with one interactive industrial control system serving it across a national
computer network in real time. This was not to be a dumb network that
would merely exchange data and communication across great distances.
It was to be a “smart” network whose decentralized command and con-
trol protocols would be capable of automating, mathematically modeling,
optimizing, and rationalizing away the profound inefficiencies that beset
the command economy. According to the original proposers, the resulting

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