When brilliant Soviet cyberneticist Viktor Glushkov designed a blueprint for a computerised planning system, the Soviet Union looked on track to become web pioneers. In the end, however, there was to be no digital network. Here’s an excerpt from a piece I wrote for The Calvert Journal:
Visions of an advanced postcapitalist economy run by digital networks have long haunted the socialist imagination. Alexander Bogdanov’s 1909 Bolshevik sci-fi fantasy novel Red Star imagined the achievement of communist utopia on Mars, an abundance of wealth and leisure made possible by a sophisticated command economy planned and automated by prototype computers. Cerebral Martian engineers, their “delicate brains” connected to the machines through “subtle and invisible” threads, fine-tune economic inputs and outputs from a control room tracking production gluts and shortfalls.
Bogdanov’s thought experiment anticipated contemporary speculations about the possibilities digital networks open for new forms of economic exchange. One current best-seller, Paul Mason’s Postcapitalism, suggests that the ease with which information can be shared online, together with the advent of 3D printing technologies, is seeding a new economy in which goods and services can be exchanged for free. Another, Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams’s Inventing the Future, envisages an automated economy set in motion by the seamless interactions of millions of connected devices.