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

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126 Chapter 4

convicted of unspecified crimes, and restoring to his studies a graduate stu-
dent found guilty of “hooliganry” for being found in a “nonsober” condi-
tion.^38 At the same time that he was navigating this public trading zone
between the superabundant conflicts of bureaucratic and real-life inter-
ests, he was developing the OGAS as a top-secret human-computer system
proposal that would do the same—resolve informal conflicts at a national
economic level. Next I look at how the informal behind-the-scenes work
culture of these cyberneticists contextualizes this larger point.

“Cybertonia”: From National Cyberculture to Local Counterculture

Glushkov’s proposal to rationalize and automate the national economy
in 1962 took shape just as his own institutional environment was being
upgraded from a small computing center to a more ambitious formal set-
ting of an academic institute, without losing its informal and, in after-work
hours, almost countercultural work environment. In the early 1960s, his
vision for reforming the command economy took on national ambitions at
the same time that his own local institution entered national prominence.
A glance at the institutional transition from Sergei Lebedev’s laboratory in
the valley of Feofania to Glushkov’s Institute of Cybernetics will provide
insights into how the local institutional culture of this particular transition
animated both formal and informal attempts to imagine an alternate Soviet
information society.
The formal history of the transition from computing center to academic
institute is illustrious if not unusual. In the late 1940s and 1950s, Sergei
Alexeyevich Lebedev gathered a small and extraordinarily talented group of
electrical engineers into a computing laboratory in the valley of Feofania in
the southern outskirts of Kiev, Ukraine. That small group brought into exis-
tence the MESM (malaya electronicheskaya schetnaya mashina, or the small
electronic calculating machine, and predecessor to the mainframe work-
horse BESM series), the first stored-memory electronic computer in Europe,
arriving four years after von Neumann’s UNIAC^39 (figure 4.4). In 1952, the
first “large electronic computer,” the BESM, or bol’shaya electronicheskaya
schetnaya mashina, followed, and then a series of Soviet native mainframe
computers—the M-20, the BESM-3M, BESM-4, M-220, M-222, and finally
the BESM-6. Designed in 1966 and produced first in 1968, the impressive
BESM-6 went into serial production and served in special-purpose compu-
tation centers and military computer networks for the next two decades. In
1962, under Glushkov’s direction, Lebedev’s laboratory was relocated a mile
away to a separate campus facility of the future Institute of Cybernetics that

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