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

(Ben Green) #1

Staging the OGAS, 1962 to 1969 143

The shortcomings of these technocratic economic reforms were due both
to the complexity of the reforms as well as the more foundational ad hoc
complexity of the ministerial networks that were scrambling for funds in
the first place. CEMI chose to devote its funding to microeconomic math-
ematical modeling of the economy (not the national networking of the
economy) because its success as an institute depended on its iterative
navigation and securing of state-approved funding. Instead of commit-
ting to particular projects (as Glushkov’s Institute did, in part thanks to
his personal leadership) or requesting and receiving funding to conduct
basic, unspecified research (as was common in both Soviet and U.S. mili-
tary spheres), CEMI had to defend and justify tens of millions of rubles in
expenditures for specified civilian-political purposes. Fedorenko reasonably
found linear programming and modeling optimal microeconomic interac-
tions (with what he called the SOFE method) to be a more sustainable and
less politically fraught task than networking the economy.
Funding of all sorts was earmarked for certain purposes, dependent on
budgetary categories, constrained by values set in institutional history and
shaped by practice, influenced by industry best practices, marked by gift-
giver sources, and saturated in the politics of negotiation and expectation.^64
As the German sociologist and philosopher George Simmel maintained in
his classic work on money, economic value is as much a matter for the phi-
losopher and sociologist who debate orders of evaluation (or the realm of
the study of value) as it is for the accountants, for whom the key interest is
the measuring of monetary value based not on value itself but on the like-
ness or exchangeability of value.^65 Fedorenko worked out the research direc-
tives for his explicitly civilian research institute in a decentralized funding
environment where economic value was subject not to a flat marketplace
but a hierarchy of state interests. As the beneficiary of such interests, CEMI
was free to redirect its research directives (in this case, away from the OGAS
Project) and was constrained to justify those civilian research directives in
politically acceptable terms (in this case, toward microeconomic model-
ing). The net effect of the decentralized funding environment for civilian
projects, especially during the political freeze under Brezhnev, for the Soviet
network institutional landscape was to redirect research toward more politi-
cally conservative agendas.
This conclusion might appear backward at first because CEMI’s choice
to focus on microeconomic modeling arguably shares more with liberal
economic (or neoliberal) calculation of value and the OGAS Project appears
to be a relatively conservative attempt to use technology to reaffirm and
rationalize the (decentralized) hierarchical command economy structure.

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