Translated from an article originally written in Greek by Dimitris Patelis
(Associate Professor of Philosophy, Technical University of Crete, member of the Association of Revolutionary Theory)
Young comrades have asked me to write something about Kalashnikov, who passed away on the 23rd December 2013. I had the good fortune to meet the legendary engineer-gunsmith Mikhail Kalashnikov in April 1998 in Izhevsk, Udmurtia, Urals. At 81 then, he impressed me with his incredible vitality, good-natured smile and the sparkle in his eyes. “Speak loudly to me, my son” – he would tell me, “I have been shooting all my life, working in shooting ranges and factories. I am hard of hearing… ”.
Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov was the seventeenth child of a rural family (eight out of the eighteen children survived). His biography provides a unique and at the same time illustrative picture of the history of the Soviet people, of the triumph and tragedy of the first country of early socialism (see: Patelis’ “Lessons from history. October Revolution: the contradictions of early socialism and the prospects of humanity”), but also the development of military technology (see: “Armed forces and war technique in history. Militarisation of science and technology”).
From an early age he was interested in science, technology, history and literature.He worked as an accountant in a Soviet railway depot and in 1938 left to serve in the Red Army, where he became a mechanical armour operator and served in the 12th Armoured Division of Western Ukraine. There he began his inventive activity, with the elaboration of an inertial gun counter and a device for measuring the life of the armour, for which he was called to report to his own army commander, a general (later commander-in-chief of the anti-fascist victory). Konstantinovich Zhukov. He started participating in the war from the beginning, in August 1941, as commander of armour. In October he was seriously wounded in a battle in Bryansk.
During his hospitalisation he conceived of the basic idea for the legendary automatic. Before fully recovering, he built the first experimental model of his pistol submachine gun in Matai, which began to be developed in the laboratories of the Moscow Aviation Institute (relocated due to the war in Almaty, Kazakhstan). Later, the model was presented to the leading scientist of the time specialising in firearms, commander of the Dzerzhinsky Academy of Army Engineer, AA Blagonrav. The report prepared by the latter together with the experts of the Academy, identified some technical shortcomings in the overall successful design and construction, and finally rejected its industrial production for technical-economic reasons (expensive and time-consuming work for new type components), recommending instead the continuation of the production of PPS-41 and PPS automatic, which were successfully tested on the battlefields. However, Blagonrav praised the authenticity of the weapon (light weight and size, possibility of shooting alone, successful combination of fire selector – safety functionality, etc.), while he unreservedly recommended assigning Sergeant Kalashnikov for further training and research. In 1942, Klashnikov started working at the Central Scientific Research Field for Firearms Testing, where in 1944 he developed an experimental model of a repeating rifle, which largely served as a prototype for the creation of the famous automatic. In 1945 he commenced work on the design of an automatic weapon for intermediate ammunition (7.62 × 39, model 1943).
The Kalashnikov assault rifle won the 1947 competition and was approved for mass production and equipment by the Soviet Army. By order of General N. N. Varonov, in 1948, Kalashnikov was transferred to the Izhevsk machine-building plant, in order to undertake the creation of the technology infrastructure and oversee the entire organization of the production of the first experimental batch of the legendary “AK”. By May 1949, the order had been carried out: the first 1,500 mass-produced submachine guns had undergone extensive testing and were accepted as Soviet Army armaments. The inventor was honoured with the First Class Stalin Prize and the Red Star Medal and numerous other awards and honours.
Kalashnikov said in an interview with the Metro Moskva newspaper in 2009: “A soldier made a gun for the soldiers. I was myself a draftee and I know the difficulties of military life in the battlefield… While its construction was in progress, I visited army units, I collaborated with specialists. The soldiers themselves told me what suits them and what needs more work. Thus arose a simple, reliable and effective weapon. The AK works in all conditions, it shoots smoothly even if it falls to the ground, to mud, or after falling from a height to a hard surface. It’s very simple, this automatic. But I want to say that sometimes, doing the thing that is simple is much more difficult than the complex. “
Through the manufacturing of this weapon, first in the premises of the Izhevsk machine-building factory and then – then in hundreds of other factories (licensed or not), dozens of versions, modifications, improvements and evolutions of this weapon have been developed and released.
In 1971, Kalashnikov was named Associate Professor of Technical Sciences (postdoctoral degree). He was a member of 16 Academies of Russia and other countries and holds 35 patents. In 1969 he was promoted to colonel, in 1994 – to major general and in 1999 to lieutenant general. However, this tireless inventor who glorified Soviet armament lived modestly and humbly to the end, faithful to his principles and duty.
The engineer M. Kalashnikov (1949)
American researcher Edward Clinton Ezell (National Firearms Collection curator at the National Museum of American History), author of “The AK47 Story: Evolution of the Kalashnikov Weapons,” highlights some aspects of Kalashnikov’s contribution to the epistemology; logic, methodology, and psychology of research. In a joint interview with Kalashnikov, he said, among other things: “As a historian of firearms, I will say, without flattery and exaggeration, that you had a decisive influence on the development of this category of technical equipment in the second half of the 20th century. I do not think anyone in the world will disagree with that. This fact obliges us to approach with special attention your creative activity, which played a very important role in shaping the image of the world known to us. In such cases, it is highly desirable to demonstrate the peculiarity of the creative process, of the manufacturer, his motivations, his methods, his working conditions, which determine the direction of his thought and possibilities. Apart from the scientific and human interest, such knowledge is of great pedagogical and educational value for the new generation… “(Quoted in the epilogue of “Notes of a manufacturer-gunsmith”, pp. 290-291).
When Kalashnikov died, some trivial pacifist comments were made, not only failing to praise the great gunsmith, but instead presenting him more or less as a ruthless butcher… Indeed, there exist some technocrats, “executors of science” without soul or conscience; moral doubts are not their business. Aerospace engineer Werner von Braun belonged to this category, he was competent in all of his services, either to Hitler or to Kennedy, as long as the political power financed the works in which he was interested. In Peenemünde (Nazi Germany facilities for the V-1 flying bomb and the V-2 missile), the inventor of Apollo had nothing to say to Mittelbau–Dora’s slave labourers who worked in the V-2 factories. He was not stopped either by the hangings he attended while having fun with his SS comrades. From Europe to America, his path was that of an authority that had no faith other than the recognition of its ambitions. As he himself said many times: “What I really want is a rich uncle”… “(See: Jean-Jacques Salomon. Surviving science. Boukoumanis 2003).
Kalashnikov himself is far from that “apolitical” type of immoral technocrat, blind servant of a greedy and ruthless military-industrial complex. In the epilogue of his book “Notes of a manufacturer-gunsmith” (http://militera.lib.ru/memo/russian/kalashnikov_mt/index.html), Kalashnikov writes “I am often asked if I am satisfied with my fate. Yes, I’m satisfied. It satisfies me that all my life I have been engaged in a project necessary for the people. Of course, the gun is not a tractor, it is not a combine engine it is not a sowing tractor machine or a harvester. You will not plough the land with it, you will not grow wheat. However, without it you will not be able to defend the land that gave birth to you, you will not be able to defend your homeland, your people from the enemy. “
As he stated in the newspaper “Pravda”: “I have been a communist since 1952. In the country ruled by the communists, I – the seventeenth child of a rural family – was able to become a firearm maker, to rise to the top of skilled professionals. Under the leadership of the Communist Party my generation won a horrible war, built a strong power, paved the way for humanity in space, created the best technical models in the world. “We live to this day thanks to this great Soviet heritage.“
Asked if he regretted not acquiring wealth from his work, Kalashnikov replied: “Not everything can be counted in money. For me, the most valuable thing is when people say to me: “your gun saved my life!” What could I do with millions of pounds? I live just as well without them. “
According to Kalashnikov, the scientist, the engineer should have a say in how, why and for whose benefit his inventions are used. It was his belief that in the research field he served, the needs of the anti-fascist, anti-imperialist, liberation and internationalist struggle are fundamental motivations and criteria of choice. He considered Soviet patriotism and revolutionary internationalism to be interrelated concepts. Throughout his life, especially during the last three decades, – as I found out in the discussion I had with him in 1998 – he emphasized the pedagogical importance of his rich historical experience, the socio-political and moral problems, the perspectives of his people and humanity, the problems of war and peace, the struggle for the emancipation of peoples and peace. He wrote and published six books on these topics.
A piece published by – hardly inspired by socialist ideals- German magazine “VISIER” (January 1991) states, among other things: “What makes MT Kalashnikov’s biography special is the fact that he was the son of an ordinary farmer and had no academic studies. His rise to the post of chief builder among Soviet engineers-gunsmiths is another proof of the supremacy of the communist system, which gives everyone a better chance at life, regardless of family background and studies “(ibid.). , p. 297).
The AK-47 was and is by far the undisputed protagonist of small arms on the battlefields throughout the second half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, especially in the camps of the guerrillas, the insurgents, the revolutionaries, the popular liberation movements, the anti-imperialist struggle against colonialism and neo-colonialism. In some countries of Africa (Mozambique, Ethiopia, Somalia), an extremely common male name has emerged from the surname of the engineer, “Kalas”, and it is bestowed -according to modern myth- with magical power… “AK” is inscribed on the coats of arms of various countries (Mozambique, Zimbabwe, East Timor) and the flags of many movements.
Asked if it was tragic to incorporate human creative ingenuity into a killing machine, Kalashnikov answered thoughtfully with obvious anxiety: “I did not make a weapon to kill, but to liberate the people.”
P.S. Details of his biography can be found in many articles, such as Mikhail Kalashnikov (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mikhail_Kalashnikov).
Professor Patelis’ original article was first published in Greek by: https://ilesxi.wordpress.com/2013/12/27