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

(Ben Green) #1

Staging the OGAS, 1962 to 1969 137

establish a rolling range of connections, although they often were prohib-
ited from doing so in lasting ways. In many cases, the most crucial alliances
and associations for the survival and success of their core research projects
rested on currying productive relationships with the governing state min-
istries, not peer research institutes, whose areas of responsibility affected
their research missions. The CEMI in Moscow, for example, effectively
became an operations arm for Gosplan and other large ministries, and the
Institute of Cybernetics in Kiev maintained greater degrees of separation.
The history of how these institutional alliances unfolded is the short his-
tory of the OGAS Project and its undoing. Some attention will be paid in
the following sections to outlining the formation and deformation of the
alliances between economic cybernetic research institutes and Gosplan, the
Ministry of Finance, the Central Statistical Administration, and the Minis-
try of Defense.
In 1963, Glushkov’s Institute of Cybernetics and another new power-
ful economics institute—the Central Economic-Mathematical Institute
(CEMI)—formed an alliance to advance the OGAS project, although the
seeds had been planted several years earlier. When Vasily Sergeevich Nem-
chinov—a senior economist-mathematician who was a strong advocate of
economic cybernetic reform and who had done much to introduce Kan-
torovich’s linear modeling and input-output mathematical models into
Soviet economic planning—was proposing the CEMI in 1960, he initially
called it the Institute of Economic Cybernetics and devoted it to Glushkov’s
main task of networking the national economy.^48 The founding of CEMI
receives a moment of attention, too, because both new institutes invested
hundreds of young researchers and dedicated funding streams into devel-
oping the OGAS project.
Before CEMI was an institute, it was a small laboratory in Moscow in
1958 called the Laboratory of Economical Mathematical Methods. Nem-
chinov appealed to the Ministry of Finances of the USSR by letter in Janu-
ary 1962, claiming that the transformation of the Soviet economy from
socialism to communism depended on “optimal plans for the nation’s
economy.”^49 By “plans” he had in mind the “optimal planning” of Kanto-
rovich’s linear programming as understood as both local microeconomic
modeling (which could be done on a standalone mainframe computer) and
a macroeconomic national infrastructure for processing the planned econ-
omy’s commands by computer. Initially inspired by Kitov’s failed 1959 Red
Book letter, Nemchinov appealed to the Ministry of Finance that “the mod-
ern mathematical methods and the means of mechanization and automa-
tion” were necessary to manage the complexity of the economy, invoking

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