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

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122 Chapter 4

populace. The OGAS sought to pole-vault socialism toward communism at
the Hegelian level of historical progress and to usher in a better work life
for the knowledge worker: in the command economy, everyone needed to
work knowledgably with economic plans. The OGAS would grant both at
once, automatically storing relevant digital files on every local actor while
granting remote access anywhere else in the country. The origins of the
ideas behind the OGAS computing network also point to a preexisting aca-
demic network, including the circulation of a 1955 Academy of Sciences
proposal by Nemchinov to erect large but unconnected state computer cen-
ters in Moscow, Kiev, Novosibirsk, Riga, Kharkov, and other major cities.
However, this proposal did not connect the computer centers but instead
specified that they should be built to facilitate the local exchange and stan-
dardization of scientific and economic information. Kitov’s Red Book letter
in the fall of 1959, which included the initial proposal to network such
computers together into one, was the next step. In fact, after Kitov was dis-
missed from the military, Glushkov hired him to serve as a scientific adviser
and personal confidant to his projects. Their respective trust network grew
so close that, two decades later, one of Kitov’s sons and one of Glushkov’s
daughters wed, signifying, just as the close connections between Baran and
McCulloch, that personal communication networks both precede and out-
last national computing networks.^27
Beginning in the early 1960s, Glushkov’s detractors recognized the
sweeping commitment to practical universals in this vision and colored
it in different shades. As he exercised his penetrating ability to formulate
and scale up or down any problem by the force of mathematical reason,
Glushkov’s vision of the socialist cybernetic future moved, in the estima-
tion of researchers at the Central Economic-Mathematical Institute (CEMI)
and liberal economists, in “romantic” and “quixotic” leaps. Even his col-
leagues admitted in interviews that at the grandest vision, the OGAS ambi-
tion had an almost “religious” or cosmological reach to it.^28 The modern
reader should suspend incredulity at the scope of his theoretical scale until
after observing the similar scale of technological ambitions at work else-
where. The totalizing corporate missions of modern-day major data com-
panies and the scope with which data are harvested by corporations and
states share intellectual affinities with the all-inclusiveness of his or any
global-local network vision. Glushkov was not alone in 1963 in proposing
that the state should gather dossiers on every worker and economic actor
in his nation.
By contrast, Glushkov’s proponents, caught up in both the breadth and
precision of his plans, too often overlooked the frequent criticism that no

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