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

(Ben Green) #1

124 Chapter 4

computerized socialist utopia, the motherland of the Internet and also pos-
sibly the ATM.”^32
I maintain that the historical lesson is that whatever our present-day
language and whatever the future imaginations of hard currency, the past
brims with a variety of visionaries who thought about the future of money
as virtual, when as history instructs, the dominant form of currency has
already always been, since ancient Mesopotomia, the arithmetic matter of
credit and debit—itself a form of expectant funds, or money transfers made
virtual across time, not space.^33 After reviewing the proposal, Keldysh, then
president of the Soviet Academy of Science and a major supporter of Glush-
kov, asked to meet with Glushkov privately and urged Glushkov to strike
from his original OGAS proposal the recommendation of a networked soci-
ety without hard currency out of fear that it would raise “unneeded emo-
tions.” He warned Glushkov that the reviewing Soviet administrators were
so deeply attached to the advantages of hard currency that no reasoning or
ideological commitment could persuade them to abandon it.^34 Glushkov
conceded the point, and the Central Committee initially approved his proj-
ect, pending further review.

Glushkov as a Pragmatic Administrator

In many ways, Glushkov, whatever his sweeping visions in cybernetic the-
ory, proved to be a pragmatic administrator in practice. Because he under-
stood practical administration, he also knew that the inevitable limitations
of his theoretical ambitions were, in fact, an important part and conse-
quence of his approach to problem solving with practical universals. If the
Soviet administrative system worked informally behind the scenes, then
so must he, especially if he wanted to help to rationalize or formalize that
same system. Unlike some of the stillborn or short-lived cybernetic propos-
als noted earlier, the longevity of the OGAS as a potentially viable network
project owes a debt to the tenacious and pragmatic administrative acumen
that Glushkov and his colleagues displayed in navigating, managing, and
alliance forging in the administrative base of the Soviet state between 1962
and 1983. As illustrated by the Komsomol letter incident and repeated by
many of his colleagues, Glushkov was sensitive to the political nature of
the OGAS proposals and, with his upper-echelon supporters, strategically
planned every step of coalition building around every part of his proposal:
who would support what and why.^35 No naïve technocrat, he sought to
shape and situate his proposal according to the governing logics of blat and
personal politics.

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