Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by Cybcom Cockshottian Party, Oct 9, 2019.

  1. Cybcom Cockshottian Party Member

    Oct 8, 2019
    What if the USSR had become cybernetic socialist during the 1960s-1970s?

    That or during the 1990s (assuming Gorbachev wasn't in power)?

    I think several changes would have needed to be made to OGAS and as well more people joining the project.

    Perhaps a collaboration between Kitov, Glsuhkov and economists might have led to the 24th Congress to approving it?
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2019
  2. overoceans Well-Known Member

    Jul 5, 2012
    Could you maybe expand on what you mean by "Kitovism"? A duckduckgo on the word turned up precisely THREE results, the top one of which was this thread, and the bottom two of which were equally unhelpful. A search of "Kito" was also ambiguous in its relevance.
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  3. Cybcom Cockshottian Party Member

    Oct 8, 2019
    Anatoly Kitov was the pioneer of Soviet cybernetics. Before OGAS, he proposed EAMS which was an earlier version of OGAS. It's just a possible name for cybernetic communism in the Soviet Union. Alternatively, Marxism-Leninism-Glushkovism. It's an alternate-history, fictional ideology of course.
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  4. New Cleo Genesis Ṣrtô nag lavēskiy drûotnec?

    Dec 12, 2013
    You mean something along the lines of Project Cybersyn in Allende-era Chile?
  5. Cybcom Cockshottian Party Member

    Oct 8, 2019
  6. overoceans Well-Known Member

    Jul 5, 2012
    Thanks for the clarification.

    And not to toot my own horn, but this thread I started some time ago might be of some interest. (I actually didn't make many substantial contributions to the envisioned scenrios anyway.)
  7. Viralworld Éirí Amach an Ghealach Donor

    Mar 23, 2017
    The Villehardouin Principality of Achea
    I've also been interested in this topic since I read Cockshott's "Towards a New Socialism", Francis Spufford's "Red Plenty" has also been on my reading list for the sort of "What If" presented by CYBERSYN and OGAS - very interesting.

    I currently don't know enough on it to present an accurate prediction but I'll bump in hopes of a detailed response!
  8. fasquardon Cosmonaut

    Sep 24, 2012
    The Soviets had no-where near the electronics industry to build a real union-wide OGAS system. Cybernetics would be a thing in the future like Communism itself. That's not to say that it couldn't be a positive thing. But there are also plenty of ways to mess the USSR up badly with these ideas.

  9. alexmilman Well-Known Member

    Apr 24, 2018
    It was remarked (within framework of computerization of the SU) that “automation does not work with the crooks”. The ideas were impractical in pretty much each and every aspect: technology, software, social implications. Technological issues aside (such a trifle, control everything in the SU down to production of a single nail ), too many people on all levels had been interested in this not happening.

    Aliende’s system was tiny and operated in an artificially narrowed scope of a task. Nothing comparable to the complete cybernitization of the whole SU.
  10. fasquardon Cosmonaut

    Sep 24, 2012
    Yeah, if the USSR had ever had the desire and the electronics output to actually build all the computers to set up an OGAS network across the whole economy in a reasonable interval of time... I don't think it would have gone well.

    A small-scale trial of an OGAS system could, I think, be valuable. But not because it would itself was a brilliant idea. No idea can leap directly off the pages of theory and be worth snot. And OGAS certainly couldn't. But a trial could produce useful ideas and useful experience. And to even exist, such a trial needs something in the Soviet system to be working better.

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  11. Shevek23 Spherical Cow-poke

    Aug 20, 2010
    Reno, Nevada USA
    The basic problem with Stalinist economics was the perverse incentive structure. I am definitely not saying going all in on market based reform is the magic bullet here, not at all. But even when, noting @fasquardon 's caveat, Soviet electronics might evolve to sufficient levels (say they pull roughly even to Western in the early 1970s) to be of great technical help, the basic problems were not at all related to objective difficulties in replacing mindless market price mechanisms with conscious material input-output management. The basic problems related to perverse incentives to deceive the system's official accounting at all levels. Garbage in, garbage out!

    What is needed first of all is major revision of the basic framework to allow persons who take some risks to perform better to feel confident this will be rewarded and not in effect punished. For the Soviet Communist regime to survive that, such a framework must remain uncompromised in its socialist-aiming-to-communist foundations and aspirations, and must not create too drastic a stratification of common society--all persons who make some effort to comply must feel they are in this together, though a substantial level of perks and privileges will be tolerated, if the general living standards visibly rise at some pace giving ordinary citizens reason to believe staying committed to the system will pay off for them. Indeed, to an extent, visible perks and privileges are an incentive in themselves. It remains important not to compromise the basic premise of collective effort by all for all, in some plausibly demonstrated fashion.

    Now, if we can arrive at a reasonably "Soviet" reform within these constraints, computerization can then be quite helpful, as soon as the capabilities arise, and if such reforms have some effectiveness we can expect superior performance in flexibility permitting innovation, and quality control.

    Indeed anything that results in broad improvements, even falling in upshot still well below Western capitalist product standards, in waste reduction and quality control will translate pretty directly into really substantial improvements in useful output, even if on paper the baseline production levels and productivity remain the same as OTL. The Soviet system in practice involved massive waste, and cutting that say in half means a lot more resources for both regime priorities like military defense and for general consumer purposes. Half success in this alone will allow the regime to back off on aggressive hyperbolic Plan targets and still have as strong a military on paper, with higher quality kit across the board in practice (not a lot higher here, the Soviet military had unusual powers of demanding some quality control, but footsoldiers and other grunts in the various services would have notably better experiences with reliability and quality of uniforms, etc). To be completely fair, a lot of what amounted to pilferage greatly slashing effective in-Plan resources found its way to the black markets, where plant managers would routinely have to deal to make up shortfalls in supply, thus recapturing them, and where citizens met a large fraction of needs and desires--some wastage avoidance is thus a matter more of shifting the channels of distribution back into official ones, and has to be deducted from a fair balance sheet of material outcomes.

    The more successful the regime is in raising quality and minimizing back-channel pilferage redistribution, the better the official data the Plan management is based on shall be. Realism in accounting for the remaining "on the left" as I believe the Russian phrase translates to black market stuff going on can allow estimates to be pragmatically closer to reality on the ground and thus more realistic in outcome, and realism in Plan targets is encouragement of all actors--workers and managers--to play within bounds, provided both categories of citizen expect reasonably fair treatment within the rules.

    I have a couple of schemes in mind, one of which is frankly rather draconian and Stalinist in spirit and practice and pretty ugly to explore, and might prove far too likely to turn into another paper game of lies and insider manipulation, the other of which is quasi-market in aspects and thus ideologically suspicious, but based on something that did evolve in the later NEP years, in the hands of sincere Bolshevik officials (who were acting out of step with the ideological consensus goals of the Party, albeit in the spirit of socialist-communist success and not desiring to restore capitalism). Perhaps a plausible path to institute both across the board can be worked out in the period 1955-1970, and if established in place, cybernetic augmentation can then prove quite helpful--and would be likelier earlier if success in these reforms raises the quality and proficiency of Soviet microelectronics!

    If cybernetics on Soviet terms were successful, I would imagine its form would remain quite centralized; the regime would tend to make big supercomputers on a massively timesharing basis, and with the KGB and others monitoring everything too--the Gah-Behs, the Defense ministry, the various industrial branch ministries, the regional Soviet government and Party branches, and yet others all enabled to listen in to communications and get back door looks at databases. Citizens would of course assume that! Eventual equivalents of PCs and cell communications would take the form of minimal processing power terminals, eventually handheld perhaps, uploading and downloading the data to the central machines; a citizen, or even factory manager, would not be familiar with thumb drives and hard drives and so forth, it is all stored on the main data banks. Even factories would probably lack their own minicomputers for processing. (The Soviet system would to be sure produce a lot of isolated facilities, doing stuff more or less in secret, major defense installations, labs, etc; these would have their own computer centers).

    If in the meantime we have some anti-Stalinist, libertarian/civil rights thawing, probably not in the form of granting recognition of absolute rights in the western sense, but responding to the factors driving such recognition by protocols in practice largely protecting people from egregious abuses and granting some practical protection to diverse speech and opinion, a pretty vibrant on-line culture could emerge--anything you say can but will generally not be used against you.

    If all this reform stabilizes Soviet legitimacy and sustains the USSR to the present day, it would become a major player in global economics, and on defiantly market-optional terms too, which would give it leverage in Third World relations to boot.

    I had some speculation on the fate of the Warsaw Pact but honestly that is not really on topic, not totally irrelevant but not OK for the depth and length I went into and far too speculative. Most likely, ugly as it is, a stronger Soviet regime keeps its grip on the whole WP despite the fact that no amount of economic mollification will make it really legitimate (or within the USSR, defuse the discontent in the Baltic republics) so WP and Soviet borders remain as OTL; that means the Cold War remains pretty tense no matter how much Soviet society might loosen up relative to OTL--therefore less of an incentive for Soviet society to do so save insofar as Soviet internal drives to do that and likely economic improvements from a more relaxed internal regime are in the cards. A stronger Soviet planned economy would extend economic benefits to WP bloc nations too despite the general illegitimacy of Soviet rule there--this political sullenness probably will limit the degree of application of ATL Soviet improvements though not totally stopping them from being implemented partially. I had a more liberationist alternative trajectory going but it is probably too rosy-optimistic. With the West on if anything higher alert due to the objectively stronger Soviet bloc economy, the Soviets can't get away with further annexation; they might fear to get too involved in Afghanistan.

    Vietnam and Cuba on the other hand would be quite strong allies and liable to use the Soviet-vetted reforms to the hilt--armament of Cuba remains restricted by the pragmatic fear of tipping the USA into too panicked a reaction, but nothing much stops Vietnam from being armed to whatever level Moscow desires, at least falling short of giving them nukes, which Soviet experience in the Cuban missile crisis would tend to make them think more than twice was not so much the relations with the USA alone, but also their horror at Castro's gung ho attitude that caused them to yank back a bunch of tactical nukes US intelligence knew nothing about! Once bitten twice shy, so no nukes deployed to either ally, not even in nominal Soviet control--Soviet missile subs might dock in Havana or at Camh Rahn bay, but that would be the limit. Of course barring a major butterfly of different US Vietnam War experience or post-NV triumph debacle with respect say to the PRC, "Vietnam" in effect means all of former French Indochina, with Laos and Cambodia firmly under the Vietnamese thumb--which makes Thailand a front line state in the Western alliances, no different than OTL up to 1990 or so except insofar as stronger Soviet economy makes a difference. But I don't think the USA could escalate a lot more in SEA without risking global nuclear war, never mind the domestic constraints in the USA against it.

    I do have a possibly long shot, but possible scenario whereby South Vietnam might survive, and probably then Cambodia would not wind up under the effective control of Hanoi either, but again, largely off topic! It hinges on Lyndon Johnson's OTL serious attempts at getting a peace treaty, pretty much identical in the upshot to what Nixon eventually did sign 4 years later, but the circumstances would be different enough that maybe Saigon's fall would not become so inevitable--in some ways the 4 year delay left the Saigon regime stronger, but not against the threat they did fall to OTL. But as noted, long shot and off topic. To round this off topic topic off, I think the probability of just avoiding the whole 'Nam mess or some magic bullet glorious victory through more decisive violence or something like that is even more of a long shot; either we accept the OTL mess as a package with all its carnage into the 1980s, or LBJ's treaty attempt is not thwarted and it maybe works (due to different circumstances leaving US regional options freer and stronger), that's my opinion on that. The clash was not easy or likely to avoid, and by the way not really desired by either the US or USSR, it was in fact a Vietnamese show, nor was an easy resolution by US military means reasonably likely to work as advertised without once again risking global armageddon. Which neither superpower wanted, especially after the Cuban crisis.

    So--the OP premise is not nearly enough, not by itself, even when Soviet data processing improves to levels where one might reasonably start talking about serious cyberneticization of the Plan. Something else has to change the rules of the game to enable the ATL Soviet system to be far less wasteful and low quality in outputs, and that relates to workplace practices based on realistic incentives. If we disbelieve anything but market operations can do this, then we have signed the Communist regime's death warrant, of course many people say goody on that. I wouldn't, if in fact reforms were making the Soviet bloc both more economically prosperous and more humane and respectful of basic justice. If that process were in progress, I think on the whole then, under those conditions, survival of the USSR is better than OTL despite the ongoing repression of Eastern Europe (relieved relative to OTL, but no one in the ATL knows that, it is the old "Grass is Always Greener On the Other Side of the Fence" aspect of AH) and the international tensions--which honestly overall don't seem a lot worse than OTL on the whole.

    Computers alone will not cut it, and frankly if we have a changed domestic situation where computerization is useful, we don't then strictly need them, they just add some icing of further improvement to the cake of the main accomplishment. Which would be nice to have, and also likely to just come along as part of the package. The main thing is to figure out how a fundamentally non-market system, committed to socialism with a communist goal, can compete head to head, or near enough, with capitalism.

    If we knew how to do that surefire, I expect we'd have all gone socialist a long time ago. I still think there is a way to do it, but have no guaranteed method. (And part of what I think would be likeliest to be compatible with the Soviet regime would be pretty ugly in application too, arguably not overall worse than OTL, but not so nice. I have a nice part but it is more speculative, as is the ugly part).
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  12. jerseyguy Well-Known Member

    Feb 25, 2017
    Red Plenty is a great resource on this topic, but on net it seems like an argument against the feasibility of cybernetic planning within the bounds of 20th century computer technology. This review of the book gets into the sheer mathematical complexity of the problems at hand and some of the computer science relevant to the problem.
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  13. Sam R. Well-Known Member

    May 11, 2011
    You don’t need networked digital computers ffs.

    You can hand sim commodity bundles with meat and metal computers and meat and metal telephony/telegraphy.

    What you need is a commitment to castrate local and global political nomenklatura control (or ownership) over the means of production in favour of a technical economic nomenklatura.

    And guess who plays politics better?

    And it is still a value form / wage labour economy, ie: Das Capital.
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