OGAS - Automated State System of Economic Management

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= "OGAS ("National Automated System for Computation and Information Processing") was a Soviet project to create a nationwide information network. The project began in 1962 but was denied necessary funding in 1970". [1]


Benjamin Peters:

"The OGAS project was the most ambitious attempt to network the Soviet Union—to construct a national computer network. Viktor M. Glushkov, whose New York Times obituary dubbed him the “king of Soviet cybernetics,” considered the OGAS his lifework between his appointment as director of the Institute of Cybernetics in Kiev in 1962 and his death of an apparent brain hemorrhage in 1982. “OGAS” is short for the obshchee-gosudarstvennaya avtomatizirovannaya system—or the all-state automated system, which itself was a shortening of its full train-length name: the All-State Automated System for the Gathering and Processing of Information for the Accounting, Planning, and Governance of the National Economy, USSR. This heroic or gargantuan project, in Glushkov’s 1962 proposal, sought to build incrementally on preexisting and new telephony networks until it would go fully online 30 years later, offering up in the process a real-time decentralized hierarchical computer network for managing all the information flows in the command economy. He envisioned it reaching from one central computer center in Moscow, to several hundred regional computer centers in prominent cities, and then to as many as 20,000 local computing centers in factories and enterprises stretching over all of Soviet Eurasia. Its higher purpose was to realize “electronic socialism” technocratically, guiding the socialist experiment another step toward communism itself. However, the project encountered significant obstacles on the path to its realization in the 1960s and 1970s. By the 1980s, the OGAS project had splintered into a patchwork of unconnected and non-interoperable local factory control systems spread throughout the country."



From the Wikipedia:

"The primary architect of OGAS was Viktor Glushkov. A previous proposal for a national computer network to improve central planning, Anatoly Kitov's Economic Automated Management System, had been rejected in 1959 because of concerns in the military that they would be required to share information with civilian planners.

Glushkov proposed OGAS in 1962 as a three-tier network with a computer centre in Moscow, up to 200 midlevel centres in other major cities, and up to 20,000 local terminals in economically significant locations, communicating in real time using the existing telephone infrastructure. The structure would also permit any terminal to communicate with any other. Glushkov further proposed using the system to move the Soviet Union towards a moneyless economy, using the system for electronic payments.

In 1962, Glushkov estimated that had the paper-driven methods of economic planning continued unchanged in the Soviet Union, then the planning bureaucracy would have grown by almost fortyfold by 1980.

He urged the full implementation of the OGAS project to Politburo members in 1970 with the view:

"If we do not do [the full OGAS] now, then in the second half of the 1970s the Soviet economy will encounter such difficulties that we will have to return to this question regardless."

Glushkov sought financial funding with an estimated amount of "no less than 100 billion rubles" or equivalent to $850 billion in 2016 U.S. dollars but believed the saving returns would be fivefold on the first fifteen-year investment.

The project failed because Glushkov's request for funding on 1 October 1970 was denied. The 24th Communist Party Congress in 1971 was to have authorised implementation of the plan, but ultimately endorsed only expansion of local information management systems. Glushkov subsequently pursued another network plan, EGSVT, which was also underfunded and not carried out.

The OGAS proposal was resented by some liberals as excessive central control, but failed primarily because of bureaucratic infighting. It was under the auspices of the Central Statistical Administration, and fell afoul of Vasily Garbuzov, who saw a threat to his Ministry of Finance. When EGSVT failed, the next attempt, SOFE, was done in 1964 by Nikolay Fedorenko, who attempted to build an information network that could be used in economic planning in Soviet Union's planned economy. The project was successful at a micro-level but did not spread into wide use.

Beginning in the early 1960s, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union considered moving away from the existing Stalinist command planning in favor of developing an interlinked computerized system of resource allocation based on the principles of Cybernetics. This development was seen as the basis for moving toward optimal planning that could form the basis of a more highly developed form of socialist economy based on informational decentralization and innovation. This was seen as a logical progression given that the material balances system was geared toward rapid industrialization, which the Soviet Union had already achieved in the preceding decades. But by the early 1970s the idea of transcending the status quo was abandoned by the Soviet leadership, who felt the system threatened Party control of the economy. By the early 1970s official interest in this system ended.

By the end of 1970s the "natural" development of Soviet computers lead to creation of the project called Akademset aimed at construction of nationwide optic fiber and radio/satellite digital network but only the Leningrad part of it was actually implemented before dissolution of the USSR. By 1992 Soviet computers serving it were destroyed and in 1990 USSR/Russia obtained a state-independent global Internet connection via telephone to Finland due to efforts of a private telecom enterprise called Relcom."



Renato Flores:

"As early as 1958, Victor Glushkov proposed the idea of ​​creating a universal control machine, which, unlike the highly specialized automatic control machines that existed at that time, could be used in any of the most complex technological processes. Three years later, such a machine was built. It was called “Dnieper”. With this machine, for the first time in Europe, it was possible to remotely control a complex process of converting liquid iron into cast steel. It was used to automate one of the most labor-intensive processes in the shipbuilding industry: the cutting of steel plates for the manufacture of a ship’s hull. The hull has a complex spatial configuration and, therefore, cutting the flat steel plates with which the hull will be made is a highly complex engineering task. In the United States, a similar machine was released at the same time, although its development had started earlier. «Dnieper» also broke a record in terms of longevity: it was produced for ten years, while the usual lifespan of a computer model rarely exceeded five or six years.

Glushkov, a passionate promoter of electronic computer technology and cybernetics, immediately saw the incredible capabilities of this science, which far exceeded any fantasy. At the same time, the scientist did not participate in the famous “dispute about cybernetics”, which is now presented as nothing less than “Soviet persecution”.

The essence of Glushkov’s approach was that he did not see in the machine a substitute for the human brain, but rather a special tool that would strengthen it, just as a hammer amplifies the hand and a microscope the eye. Therefore, the machine is not man’s competitor, but an instrument that multiplies his capabilities.

Only in this sense does the machine, or rather the system of machines, become the technical basis for the transition to a new model of economic management. At the same time, Glushkov believed that the effective use of machines in this capacity is possible only in a single complex, when there is no competition, no associated trade secrets, no industrial espionage, etc.

Economic Management:

Among Glushkov’s many groundbreaking scientific ideas, we should single out the one that he considered his life’s work. This is his idea of the Automated State System of Economic Management (OGAS). Even at the time, Glushkov himself failed to appreciate the role his OGAS idea could play in our history. Of course, he predicted that the country would face “great difficulties” in managing the economy unless the role of information technologies in planning was adequately evaluated on time, but he could not predict that, at the end of the 20th century, this country would cease to exist.

It so happened that, in connection with OGAS, the Soviet leadership had to choose between two alternatives:

  • to go down the road of improving economic planning on a national scale,
  • or to go down the road to the market as a regulator of production.

In his memoirs, Viktor Glushkov said that this question was not so easy to solve. For a long time, the top leadership of the USSR hesitated. The very fact that Glushkov was commissioned to lead a commission to prepare materials for the resolution of the Council of Ministers on the start of work on the OGAS project speaks volumes.

The reasons for the decision to initiate the notorious economic reform in 1965 (t.n. the Kosygin-Lieberman reform), whose main idea was to make the market the main regulator of production, are still not entirely clear. Here is what one of the spokesmen for the 1965 market reform, Alexandr Birman, wrote: “Now, the main indicator by which the performance of the company will be judged and […] on which all its well-being and its direct ability to carry the production schedule is carried out, it is the indicator of the sales volume (i.e. the sales of the products)”. In other words, the economy began to adopt a market logic.

In 1964, it was unlikely that any serious production or science manager could doubt that the future lay in the scientific application of electronic computing technology. For this reason, the idea of OGAS was initially welcomed with enthusiasm. Furthermore, it is not clear how it could happen that, at the last moment, a preference was expressed for the project of the so-called “economists”. The initiators of the economic reform of 1965 were little known, they came out of nowhere, and immediately began to play an almost key role in Soviet economic science. Their activities were directed against Glushkov’s project. In the end, they played a fatal role as the development of the IT infrastructure for the existing planned economic management system was abandoned in favour of market mechanisms.


In Vitaly Moev’s book-interview “The Reins of Power”, Viktor Glushkov proposed the idea that humanity in its history has passed through two “information barriers”, as he called them using the language of cybernetics. Two thresholds, two management crises. The first arose in the context of the decomposition of the clan economy and was resolved with the emergence, on the one hand, of monetary-commercial relations and, on the other, of a hierarchical management system, in which the superior manager directs the subordinates, and these the executors.

Starting in the 1930s, according to Glushkov, it becomes clear that the second “information barrier” is coming, when neither hierarchy in management nor commodity-money relations help anymore. The cause of such a crisis is the inability, even with the participation of many actors, to cover all the problems of economic management. Viktor Glushkov said that according to his calculations from the 1930s, solving the management problems of the Soviet economy required some 1014 mathematical operations per year. At the time of the interview, in the mid-1970s, already about 1016 operations. If we assume that one person without the help of machinery can perform on average 1 million operations a year, then it turns out that about 10 billion people are needed to maintain a well-run economy. Next, we will present the words of Victor Glushkov himself:

From now on, only ‘machineless’ management efforts are not enough. Humanity managed to overcome the first information barrier or threshold because it invented monetary-commercial relations and the pyramidal management structure. The invention that will allow us to cross the second threshold is computer technology.

A historical turn in the famous spiral of development takes place. When an automated state management system appears, we will easily grasp the entire economy at a single glance. In the new historical stage, with new technology, in the next turn of the dialectical spiral, we are as if “floating” over that point of the dialectical spiral below which, separated from us by millennia, was the period when the subsistence economy of man was easy to see with the naked eye.

This is what the scientist was aiming at! It should be noted that the U.S. intelligence agencies fully appreciated the seriousness of his ideas. In Glushkov’s “testament” you will also find such thoughts:

The Americans were the first to get agitated. Of course, they are not hedging bets on a war against us, it is only a cover, they are trying to crush our already weak economy with an arms race. And, of course, any strengthening of our economy is to them the worst of all things. So they immediately opened fire on me with every conceivable caliber. Two articles appeared first, one in Victor Zorza’s Washington Post and the other in the English Guardian. The first one was called “The punch card runs the Kremlin” and was aimed at our leaders. It read as follows: “Academician V.M. Glushkov, the czar of Soviet cybernetics, proposes replacing the Kremlin leaders with computing machines.” And so on, a lowbrow article.

The article in the Guardian was aimed at the Soviet intelligentsia. It said that Academician Glushkov proposes to create a network of computer centers with databanks, that it sounds very modern and more advanced than it is now in the West, but that it is not done for the economy, but it is in fact it is an order of the KGB, aimed at storing the thoughts of Soviet citizens in data centers and monitoring every person.

Glushkov was fully convinced that the CIA had a hand in the campaign against OGAS. But the fact remains that the draft decree of the Council of Ministers on the start of the OGAS deployment, which had already been prepared, was pushed aside."



With Benjamin Peters:

* What were the impacts of OGAS’s failure on the Soviet republics that you researched? What is the status of Russia’s current Internet regulation and usage?

In short, none and it’s complicated. Strictly speaking, there is no evidence that its failure had any observable impact; counterfactually speculating, however, it would of course be very tempting to postulate that, had history been different and had the OGAS project somehow succeeded in reforming the command economy, the Soviet Union would likely not have collapsed due to internal economic distress when it did. Like all counterfactuals, this is unwarranted speculation—the stuff historians abhor but many readers may understandably want to indulge.

Instead let us consider the current state of the Internet in Russia. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union (and in fact among very isolated computer users throughout the 1980s), the global Internet has slowly penetrated the Russian Federation and other former Soviet territories—and today Internet penetration in Russia hovers roughly at about 70%. The key dynamic to understanding Russian and Soviet information culture, the book suggests, is not formal regulations but informal practices—and indeed the development of the Internet in post-Soviet Russia is a case in point: only recently has the Russian state begun to formally regulate or censor the internet. For decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the book adds—many decades before that—the corrupt forces steering the state have shaped and silenced public network power via informal pressures and surveillance. The collapse of the Soviet Union does not mark the “end of history” nor even the next chapter in it: in terms of how the state informally brokers information networks to its own ends, we can read one unbroken chapter linking Soviet and Russian internet histories.

* How has the failure the OGAS project affected the development and success of America’s ARPANET?

To my best knowledge, not at all. There is evidence that intelligence specialists in the west were concerned about the potential economic benefits of such a Soviet “unified information net.” There were also rumored attempts to lure Glushkov and others to defect to the west with well-paying positions. But no available evidence suggests that these particular Soviet efforts actually influenced the ARPANET or its subsequent network history. If there was any arrow of influence (and that is a significant if) between the OGAS and the ARPANET, it ran in the opposite direction: the Politburo decided to review the OGAS project in the fall of 1970 in part in order to find a response to the ARPANET, which had gone online one year earlier, and in part to reform its stumbling economy. Even then, the big picture here is a familiar case in the history of science and technology: “multiples,” or similar innovation projects often take shape simultaneously and independently. The ARPANET and the OGAS projects are not merely contemporaries between 1959 and 1990 so much as they appear curiously independent of one another."


More information

"My book describes the rise and fall of the OGAS project and analyzes what sped its undoing. I should note that many English-language readers may be tempted to wager explanations of their own before they read the book, such as technological backwardness, censorship cultures, and hierarchical command economies. While there is surely a grain of truth in each of these three, none tells the full story."


  • Principles of OGAS Construction:

"Glushkov’s monograph “Macroeconomic Models and Principles of OGAS Construction” was published in 1975. This book describes the experience of using computer technology in the management of economic processes, accumulated over a decade and a half, shows the methods for forecasting and managing discrete processes, presents operational planning and management models, examines the problems of human resource and salary management, and offers a new structure of the OGAS, which corresponds to the then level of technology development informatics, and to the stages of its creation.

The concept of the OGAS was directly related to the academic’s social and political views. Take, for example, his idea of a non-monetary distribution, about which both party and state leaders and official economists tried to keep silent. It is indicative that when preparing the first draft of the OGAS, the part related to this topic was immediately excluded from consideration as premature, and all preparatory materials were ordered to be destroyed."