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

(Ben Green) #1

Staging the OGAS, 1962 to 1969 123

institutional environment could possibly be ready to do all that the OGAS
sought to do. Glushkov also recognized that no practical effort, no matter
how impressive, could ever satisfy both the local and global demands of
making paperless the command economy, and many of his career efforts
outside the OGAS Project focused, to his credit, on local projects, including
the paperless office.^29 For the OGAS, however, because it was a matter of
economic bureaucracy reform, he insisted on a comprehensive meaning of
economic information: “since the object of control is not only equipment
but also personnel, one must include [in the OGAS] all the information
about new technical, technological, economic, and organizational ideas
and projects that workers at a given enterprise have.”^30 Far more than a
shared file containing economic information, the OGAS presented itself
as a real-time clearinghouse for information concerning individuals, proj-
ects, factories, enterprises, and industries. The network would continue to
expand in scope, according to Glushkov, until it encompassed the whole of
the Soviet economy as well as all workers, their activities, and their office
space. At worst, the vision appears a totalizing and decentralized (not totali-
tarian) information capture of the workers and their work environment.
At best, it appears to be an organization information upgrade that is fit for
every large-scale corporation. Depending on how one weighs the values
of individual privacy and organizational purpose, these two champion a
particular universal ethical tension that occupies the modern media age.
Glushkov also foresaw (or rather projected) a hint of the financial future,
although perhaps not the future he had hoped for. Because the socialist
economy would be incrementally organized into a cybernetically balanced
network of labor, production, and consumption inputs and outputs, Glush-
kov reasoned, there would remain no reason not to virtualize currency itself
and make the exchange of funds take place by “electronic receipt.” With
the OGAS operational, there would no longer be need for hard currency.
All economic exchanges would take place online. Following this line of
thought, Glushkov included in his initial OGAS draft proposal a notewor-
thy provision to eliminate all paper currency, providing in its place wire-
less money transfers, or a “moneyless system of receipts” over the OGAS
network.^31 Although modern readers may be tempted to see in his proposal
a prototype of the modern-day ATM, e-commerce digital money transfers,
PayPal, or BitCoin, Glushkov framed paperless money transfers in the poli-
tics of his time and place, calling it the fulfillment of a Marxian prophecy of
a future Communist society without hard currency. Read backward in pre-
sentist terms, as historians are loath to do, the proposal, if realized, would
have transformed the Soviet Union into, in Vladislav Zubok’s phrase, “a

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