Before the New Year I asked why the recently-deceased inventor of the AK-47 was able to become so successful. There were a couple of good responses from Paul and Roman, but Jonathan Finegold’s response is worth highlighting:
Whatever I once knew about the process of military procurement in the Soviet Union, I’ve mostly now forgotten. But, the AK-47 is just one out of many Soviet military inventions that have become mainstays of global militaries: T-54 and T-72 tanks, MiG-29, et cetera. The USSR was generally head-to-head with the United States in military technology, although arguably the U.S. started to pull away during the late 1980s. This legacy of military technology follows back to the Second World War, and even before. It was the Soviets, under the leadership of Mikhail Tukhachevsky, who developed what is commonly known as “blitzkrieg” (typically associated with the Germans, who trained with the Soviets during the late 1920s and early 1930s). Their T-34 has become one of the emblem tanks of WWII.
But, rather than a success of the Soviet system, this should be interpreted as a failure. The criticism of socialism is not that it cannot achieve certain ends, or even that it cannot achieve these ends with success, in some sense of the word. The critique of socialism is that they cannot economize on the resources used towards achieving these ends, and that these ends are not representative of the general welfare of society. In other words, the capitalist system is the achievement of a plurality of ends; socialism is the opposite. The USSR put military success, especially in terms of “out-showing” their American rivals, over other ends, especially those of their people. Thus, despite the poverty of Soviet society, the USSR accomplished great military and scientific achievements. (This is why comments like “socialism works, because we were able to mobilize resources towards the war effort and mass produce more military equipment than any other country” is not a good response to the critique of socialism — it fails to grasp what the critique of socialism actually is.)
Contrast this with the United States, which achieved both great military and scientific achievements and improvements to the general welfare of society.
This helps to clarify a number of important concepts (including why socialism failed), but I’m still puzzled as to why Moscow allowed one of its products to be nicknamed after an individual at the height of the Cold War.