Kalashnikov, hero and inventor, is dead, but how did he do it?

Mikhail Kalashnikov is dead. From the LA Times:

Weapons designer Mikhail Kalashnikov, […] The creator of the legendary AK-47, which became widely known as the Kalashnikov, […] died Monday […]

Over six decades, Kalashnikov’s cheap, simple and rugged creation became the weapon of choice for more than 50 standing armies as well as drug lords, street gangs, revolutionaries, terrorists, pirates and thugs the world over.

Here is a great piece by CJ Maloney celebrating the AK-47. What I really want to know is this: How was such an invention able to be created in the Soviet Union?

The only option I can think of is that the military-industrial complex of the USSR was so powerful and influential that incentives actually drove innovation in that sector of the economy.

But even this doesn’t fully explain how Kalashnikov was able to invent the gun, patent it, put his name on it, and reap the benefits from creating it in the first place. How could any of this be possible in a command-and-control economy?

6 thoughts on “Kalashnikov, hero and inventor, is dead, but how did he do it?

  1. The answer might be that USSR ‘command economy’ of the time was not a completely rigid hierarchy. I mean, that’s a strange question. People invented new things just as well as they did in UK or France. Government agencies or even private firms (artels in post-war USSR) were able to hire new talents at their discretion, there were monetary rewards for new inventions, army and other government structures had budgets they had to meet while solving their objectives. Not that much different from capitalistic countries.

    • Thanks Roman, though there is no such thing as a ‘strange question’.

      I have a hard time taking your argument seriously, though, when you state that the Soviet Union was not that different from the West. I understand that socialism is impossible, and that Moscow had to cartelize its economy in order for it to function at all, but this doesn’t answer my question of how Kalashnikov – an individual – got the credit for inventing a machine gun.

      This makes no sense to me. Even if I’m generous in applying good faith towards the Soviet system, and grant Moscow some room to be pragmatic, I don’t see why it would allow one of its most recognizable material products to be marketed as the invention of one man. This act in and of itself refutes the entire ideological products that Moscow was keen to export abroad.

  2. Kalashnikov never held patents on any of his weapons designs. As for the success of the weapon, mass production and aggressive distribution by the Soviets was one of the keys to the rifle’s acceptance worldwide. Read CJ Chivers’ “The Gun” for a definitive explanation of the Kalash’s pedigree and manufacture.

    • Thanks for the heads up on the book, Paul.

      I can see now, in retrospect, that Kalashnikov had no patents on the AK-47, but I am still stumped as to why Moscow let one of its most prized exports get nicknamed by its supposed inventor.

      I can see the appeal of economic factors (through marketing and distributing) overruling ideological ones, but the AK-47, while popular, was not that important to the Soviet economy. I’ll bet that most of the luxurious sales happened on the black market anyway.

      To me it just seems odd that Moscow would let such a thing happen, even in the name of pragmatism.

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