Cybernetics enjoyed more prestige in the Soviet Union in the 1960's than in any other country in the world. This statement may seem surprising to non-Soviet observers, particularly to those who know that the field was at first criticized in the Soviet Union. Furthermore, the Soviet Union lagged behind the United States in computer production, both quantitatively and qualitatively. How, then, could Soviet writers constantly speak of the unique roles that they believed cybernetics would play in their society? To try to answer this question, we must begin by analyzing the essential concepts of cybernetics against the background of traditional Soviet social aspirations and the philosophic framework of dialectical materialism. To its Soviet supporters cybernetics was a new chapter in the history of materialistic approaches to nature that promised both better ways to conceptualize the world and also to achieve social goals.
The cybernetics issue bore some resemblances to past Soviet debates in science, such as those over biology and relativity physics, but it was distinguished by several new characteristics.2 The most prominent of these was that the cybernetics controversy resulted in an overt effort to develop the field more rapidly, in contrast to the past retardation of genetics by reason of the Lysenko affair and the essentially neutral effect of discussions in such fields as physics on the actual rate of development of Soviet science.3