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

(Ben Green) #1

144 Chapter 4

However, given the disconnect between practice and principal, the OGAS
Project appears both more philosophically bold and practically far-fetched
of the two economic cybernetic approaches.
Another barrier—the same that Kitov encountered in his show trial—
was the wall between civilian and military economies, and it began to
strain the hopes for an economic network. In the spring of 1965, Fedo-
renko and Glushkov approached the Ministry of Defense to discuss the
possibility of joining military network initiatives with their own OGAS
dreams. Both Glushkov and Fedorenko’s institutes were developing techni-
cally compatible, top-down, large-scale computer networks projects—and
as Kitov had pointed out in 1959, the Soviet military already had several
in operation.^66 The military networks were hierarchical and decentralized,
loosely designed after the U.S. SAGE computerized air defense system, the
first large-scale computerized command-and-control system in the world.
And so with Kitov’s Red Book show trial in mind, Fedorenko and Glushkov
met with Defense Minister Bagramyan to discuss the matter. After an hour
discussion in which Glushkov and Fedorenko did most of the talking, the
Minister of Defense Bagramyan replied, according to Fedorenko’s memoirs,
with the following:

You are good men, and you are doing right by concerning yourselves with the econ-
omy of the people’s money. But I cannot help you.... My friends, the state gives me
as much money as I ask for to build the technical basis [of the network]. As far as I
understand, they give you nothing. If I were to cooperate with you, they would give
money to neither me nor you, since there is the opinion that economics is a scab on
the healthy body of the governmental mechanism for planning and management.^67

In Bagramyan’s notion that “economics is a scab on the healthy body”
of the Soviet state, we encounter a conflict of organizational self-interest.
The Soviet military, which was the single greatest benefactor of the Soviet
command economy, refused to cooperate with a civilian cybernetic proj-
ect because of the prevailing disdain for the very economic management
techniques that the cyberneticists were hoping to reform. This denial of a
request for cooperation is an example of the unregulated freedom that the
minister enjoyed when he acted in what he felt was his institution’s best
interest. This organizational dissonance repeatedly overwhelmed Glush-
kov’s and others’ attempts at systemwide collaborative reform.
After this encounter, it is unclear how far, if at all, Fedorenko pur-
sued funding or collaboration with Glushkov’s OGAS. As in the case of
Paul Baran at RAND, funding decisions clearly favored defense rationales.
The Minister of Defense was free not to cooperate with anyone because

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