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

(Ben Green) #1

The Undoing of the OGAS, 1970 to 1989 183

Gorbachev. Kitov’s notes record that he was told two things: first, he was
to be thanked for his contributions, and second, “not everything in the let-
ter is supported by the economic division.” The Politburo and the Central
Committee, he was told, “had other functions, not those of the automatic
management of the command economy.” The Politburo was already sup-
porting the creation of a state committee of information technology, and
at the moment, that, not the economy, was the state’s priority. Kitov, at the
end of the telephone conversation, asked to receive the reply in writing and
was told that the Central Committee did not provide written replies.^52 The
likely reason for not offering a reply in writing was that the Central Com-
mittee did not want to proliferate in writing its own contradictions—in
this case, that the economic division of the governing body of the Soviet
state does not concern itself with the automatic management of the econ-
omy. No doubt Kitov felt that this reply was begging the question: that, it
seemed, had been precisely the problem all along.
Such telephone revelations, however, did not keep the state, one year
later in 1986, from pronouncing with the force of law that the economy
actually would pursue the following Glushkovian demands over the com-
ing five years (in the twelfth five-year plan): it would double the level of
automation, organize the mass production of personal computers, increase
the installation of computers by 100 to 130 percent, build computer centers
for collective use, create integrated information banks, and significantly
increase research in information theory, cybernetics, microelectronics, and
radio physics.
The passage of time has allowed some reflection on the sources of
these challenges. In 1999, Fedorenko contemplated the stubborn fact that
decades of CEMI efforts to develop macrolevel economic models had born
very little fruit in part because “the problem was too multidimensional and
multifactorial.” But “the very hardest,” Fedorenko admitted without clari-
fication, “was the ‘human factor.’”^53 Three decades earlier, the problem was
effectively the same. In 1968, Kitov summarized his own frustrations in a
personal letter to Lyapunov, not so much as a problem of human personali-
ties or specific personnel but as a problem of cultural resistance to reform
in the institutions:

The top leadership realizes the importance of [the introduction of computers into
the national economy] but takes no effective measures in support of such work,
while responsible officials from the ministries and other government agencies ... dis-
play no interest in the automation of management for the optimization of planning.
The problem is apparently rooted not in their personalities, but in their positions
and in the overall traditions, which change very slowly.^54

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