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

(Ben Green) #1

140 Chapter 4

directors of brand-new and prestigious academic institutes—Fedorenko’s
CEMI in Moscow and Glushkov’s Institute of Cybernetics (IK) in Kiev—that,
under their directorship and their shared vision of networking the national
economy, led the Soviet Academy of Sciences in economic cybernetics. At
the start in 1963, this dynamic duo of rising young academicians seemed
destined to follow parallel paths to greatness while salvaging the failing
Soviet economy along the way—at least according to Aleksei Kosygin, then
deputy chair of the Council of Ministers, who was supporting their initia-
tives at the same time that he was advancing the liberal economic reform.
All lights appeared green, and in 1964, the funds began to pour into these
institutions to shore up the alternative to the Kosygin-Liberman reforms.
The personnel at the two institutes multiplied exponentially. In a few
years, the Institute of Cybernetics’ staff numbers grew from dozens to over
two thousand, and the ranks at CEMI sprouted from its original fourteen
researchers in Akademgorodok to over one thousand researchers and staff
in Moscow. Most of those new employees were young researchers with bold
ambitions and a distaste for the culture of totalitarian control in the 1940s
and 1950s. Enthusiasm for decentralized economic reform met with central
flows of funding. In the late 1960s, after construction work was complete,
CEMI moved into a state-of-the-art, twenty-floor skyscraper in the desir-
able Cheremushki neighborhood in Moscow, and after a decade of transi-
tion in the 1960s, the Institute of Cybernetics occupied a well-equipped
campus along the scenic southwest edges of Kiev (figure 4.15). At least for
a moment in the heady transition of 1962 and 1963, the two institutes
appeared ready to remake the Soviet economy together.
One of the systemic sources of institutional volatility in the Soviet
knowledge base was the oversized influence that individual leaders, like
CEOs in modern Western culture, played in navigating and mobilizing
organizational pursuits. In this sense, institute directors, such as Nikolai
Fedorenko, appear entrepreneurial in the almost conventional sense of
organizational leaders who take risks, invest in them, and mitigate the con-
sequences of those risks by creative institutional problem solving. A year
after the founding of CEMI, Fedorenko reported to the Presidium of the
Academy of Sciences, USSR, that thanks to “the Institute work on the cre-
ation of methods of optimal planning ... savings [in the sector of transpor-
tation] have already reached about half a billion rubles.”^60
CEMI, in its early years, was not bound by the institutional logic of path
dependence. Compare, for example, the major research directives that
Fedorenko lists in his yearly reports between 1964 and 1969. In the first
annual report (1964), Fedorenko lists the following six research directives,

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