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

(Ben Green) #1

The Undoing of the OGAS, 1970 to 1989 181

How Hidden Networks Unravel Cybernetworks

This chapter has introduced and advanced an argument based on the infor-
mal character of the Soviet system outside of the centralized military com-
mand. The dynamic vitality of the system—unregulated competition with
unpredictable promotions and demotions—did not always benefit the well-
positioned and talented network entrepreneurs and system reformers, as a
number of case studies have shown. As Kitov’s Red Book show trial dem-
onstrates, military superiors were free to punish their own best and bright-
est for suggesting that networked computing capacities should be shared
beyond narrow military applications. His superiors formally accused him
not of displaying generosity toward civilian concerns but rather of going
outside formal military communication channels, which underscores the
depth of the structural military-civilian divide behind the Soviet network-
ing story. The early partnership between Glushkov’s Institute of Cybernetics
and Fedorenko’s Central Economic-Mathematical Institute illustrates some-
thing of their double-edged situation. Glushkov and Fedorenko faced oppo-
sition from the centralized military command of the Ministry of Defense,
which denied them access to military networks and the institutional knowl-
edge base that supported those military networks. At the same time, they
also faced a more subtle institutional obstacle to OGAS that came from the
civilian economic sector. The unpredictable currents and institutional drift
of the state bureaucracy, including a flush of untethered funding, pulled
their young, growing, and capable research staffs in divergent directions—
including a focus on macroeconomic reform under Glushkov in Kiev and a
focus on microeconomic reform under Fedorenko in Moscow.
Near the end, Glushkov reflected on the sources of the obstacles that
his team faced when they were developing the OGAS, the EGSVTs, and
national economic reform. His sense of disappointment with his own gen-
eration was particularly acute, and his last book that was published while he
was still alive targeted schoolchildren as its audience—What Is the OGAS?^49
In 1983, while on his death bed and suffering from an apparent tumor
of the medulla, Glushkov proclaimed that the OGAS was his “greatest life
work,” after over twenty years of dedicated effort and a long list of signifi-
cant accomplishments in other major scientific fields.
During the last nine days of his life, while constrained to his hospital
bed in the Kremlin, Glushkov insisted on working—just as he had done
back in his hospital bed in 1962. During those final days he dictated his
life memories to his daughter Olga and received as a guest the deputy of

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