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

(Ben Green) #1

The Undoing of the OGAS, 1970 to 1989 185

the Institute for Telecommunications in Moscow under the directorship of
Aleksandr Kharkevich (1963).^56 Given the immense reach and corresponding
tangle that is Soviet cybernetics, a disproportionate amount of its adminis-
trative growth took place at one or two degrees removed from these men’s
signatures and oversight. In the institutional growth period of Soviet cyber-
netics from 1953 to 1964, the roles played by supporting administrators like
Keldysh and Berg helped extend the argument that Soviet institutions often
experienced periodic spikes of exceptional growth followed by long periods
of underdevelopment.^57 Perhaps the most striking record of the explosive
state imagination for computing technology, at least as of 1963, that pro-
pelled Soviet cybernetics, CEMI, the Institute of Cybernetics, and the associ-
ated OGAS Project into the mainstream of Soviet political system is in the
recently uncovered Party resolution published on May 21, 1963. This resolu-
tion, issued by both the Central Committee and the Council of Ministries,
declared that the Soviet state would advance nearly twenty nationwide new
or transformed tasks and institutions involving computing technologies,
including the reform by computer network of the command economy.
Even so, the economic bureaucracy proved less resolute about embracing
such sweeping technological reforms. As a house divided, the bureaucracy
was unpopular with practically everyone, including the underserved pub-
lic, scientists like Glushkov and Liberman, and politicians (such as Mika-
hil Gorbachev) who publicly ran against the bureaucracy not in earnest
hope of reforming it but to ensure their own political popularity with the
public.^58 In the main, the old guard of orthodox planners who adminis-
tered the system benefited from it, although it would be a stretch to say
that they approved of how it functioned. Crisscrossing structures, personal
favors, and impartial administrative reforms plagued the hierarchy that
held together the national, regional, and local planning committees. This
ensured that, despite the state’s approval of a single national plan, there
were as many contested plans as there were administrators of the single
plan. (No plan can plan away its own private interests.)
By the time that Gorbachev’s perestroika and glasnost policies were
introduced between 1985 and 1989, the national economy could no lon-
ger mobilize around mathematical economic reforms. Official statistics
hold that between 1986 and 1988 the economy grew by 2.8 percent and
in 1989 by 2.4 percent, although in practice real economic progress, like
official economic statistics, was not meaningful. By 1985, after perestroika’s
decentralizing reforms (according to M. S. Shkabardni, one of Glushkov’s
colleagues), the idea of an economy that was rationally decentralized by
OGAS “interested no one. Everyone had forgotten about it. No one even

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