Why the USSR Never Had Successful Computer Industry

World-class mathematicians, but what about computer science?

OpenClipart-Vectors (CC0), Pixabay

I was always fascinated by the fact that the USSR never developed a computer industry that would be world-class and on par with USA’s or other countries’ inventions. They had world-class mathematicians, and as you would know, computers are all about mathematics. But nothing happened.

In fact, the USSR was the country that needed a computer industry the most. They certainly had the capability of building such industry; maybe they even had more technically capable individuals than they had in the USA. So, why nothing happened? During the 1950s and the 1960s, the USSR had all the advantages to become the most technologically superior country in the world.

They launched the first cosmonaut to space etc., and the base was essentially good to develop a Soviet computer industry. In fact, BESM-6, the first Soviet electronic computer, had significantly faster computing performance than the one used for the Apollo mission. Little over 350 such computers were built in the span of 19 years. The last one left production in 1987. Imagine Staling using a personal computer to try his luck on for example Candy Crush or a slot machine.

He would love it, but he surely would not love his citizens communicating and sharing ideas freely with easy-to- get computer technology. However, like everything else in the communist era, the country’s officials spoiled everything. They insisted for the computer technicians to mass-produce the first computers for the needs of the army only. But, the facilities for mass production were a little scarce, so instead of developing more unique and powerful machines, they simply decided to copy western computers in the 1970s, and mass- produce them instead.

In addition, the USSR officials were never truly interested in people having personal computers at home. That would mean limitless personal freedom, and you do not want that when you are a communist dictator. All they were interested in was how computers could help their army. All of that meant canceling most of the institutions and science programs that were created for the purpose of the computer industry, and firing most of the scientists that worked. It was a lot easier for Soviet agents to purchase American computers, make some scientists reverse-engineer them, and put them at sale with a different name.

This is why the USA had to restrict computer sales to the USSR. Most pirated American computers were those of IBM, which had to be obtained with the help of other intermediary countries such as South Africa. Therefore, from 1972, all computers that were produced in the USSR or other communist countries were actually pirate (illegal) copies of notable models such as Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Yamaha MSX II, Apple II, and other. Of course, the copies were significantly inferior to the originals, but they helped many aspiring computer technicians and scientists to become top-class inventors that they are today. But, now when the USSR is gone, why is Russia still lacking a true computer industry?

What do you think?

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