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As a kid growing up in the pre-Perestroika ‘80s, I used to think, “The only good Commie is a dead Commie.” Today, that sounds harsher than it did then, but something about one of my state’s U.S. Congressmen and 268 others getting blown to bits by a Soviet SU-15 fighter jet – along with hundreds if not thousands of the USSR’s ICBMs aimed squarely at the US of A – rendered such ham-fisted maxims far more socially acceptable back when we all just wanted our MTV. But hey, we grow up, we become educated and experienced, and regardless of whether or not our feelings about such things change, we learn to enter into discourse in more subtle and nuanced (some would say “more civilized”) ways than youthful, jingoistic references to “dead Commies” . . .

In my case, yesterday’s news of one particular dead Commie gave me pause, not because I’ve suddenly developed a soft spot for a political system I believe is evil, but because I think it marks an occasion where one individual’s contribution to mankind can be viewed as a telling data point in the larger discourse surrounding human governance. Yesterday, legendary Russian weapons designer Mikhail Kalashnikov – originator of the famed Avtomat Kalashnikova, model of 1947, the most abundant firearm on earth – took his final breath, ending a 94-year life which witnessed both the birth and death of Soviet-style Communism.

You can read all the news stories and obituaries about Kalashnikov and his famous avtomat, and it’s no secret that his design, though indisputably derivative of contemporary weapons, pulled together just the right combination of elements – economy, simplicity, size, ergonomics, etc. – so that the final product, although an assimilation of conventional ideas, was revolutionary enough to become “the rifle of the revolution.”

In much the same way that acclaimed film-score composer John Williams reworked passages from Romantic Period greats like Tchaikovsky and Wagner (and Gaston Glock cribbed ideas from handgun innovators like John Browning), Mikhail Kalashnikov’s genius was manifest through his ability to deliver a “best of” package in which he – an affable Marxist true-believer and Politburo poster boy – served as an integral part. But the real proof was in the kutya, as his “best-of” package proved as powerful as the Russian winter at protecting the Mother Land.

Of course, the AK-47 did a lot more than protect Mother Russia, and predictably, this is where the “blame-the-gun” crowd and their mouth-foaming media fomenters leap off the philosophical deep end. Yes, AKs of various types have, over the years, killed untold numbers of innocent people, and this is certainly tragic. But these weapons have defended, safeguarded, and freed an untold number, as well.

Regardless of how the gun was used, one thing is undeniable: its existence, accessibility, simplicity, and lethality imbued its user with a degree of self-determinism that would not have otherwise been available. The old saw rings true today: “God made man; Sam Colt made them equal.” But when it came to proliferating the highest level of military small arms to those who would have otherwise been – for better or for worse – hopelessly outgunned, it was, ironically, a motivated, innovative Communist whose inventive design democratized modern firepower more than any other gun designer in modern history.

For his part, Kalashnikov often expressed regret at the bloodshed his rifle caused in the wrong hands, but saw political failures at the root of such misuse. As a Soviet military man and later, as a Soviet politician, his optimism for the grand vision of the Leninist-Marxist ideal never seemed to waver. A quote from yesterday’s AP article exemplifies this.  Once asked if he regretted not living in the West where he could have monetized his success, Kalashnikov answered, “At that time in our country, patenting inventions wasn’t an issue…We worked for Socialist society, for the good of the people, which I never regret.”

In yesterday’s surprisingly-balanced New York Times story (written by noted AK expert and author C.J. Chivers), Kalashnikov tipped his hand even further as to what motivated him: “I am told sometimes, ‘If you had lived in the West you would have been a multimillionaire long ago’…There are other values.”

Doubtless, Kalashnikov believed deeply in those “other values,” and to a great extent, he lived them, consistently giving credit to his collaborators, the Soviet government, and the Russian people. But the luminance of the individual is still unmistakable: Today, nobody is celebrating the great, collective effort enacted 66 years ago by the Russian people to design the world’s most widely-used firearm. Instead, they are respectfully marking the passing of one man – sincere, unrepentant Commie though he may have been – who empowered untold millions to exercise their own free wills with a degree of agency they never otherwise would have ascertained.

A man like that ought to have his passing (respectfully) marked, and regardless of his beliefs, I’m definitely not glad he’s dead.

An early TTAG contributor, Atlanta native Don Gammill, Jr. currently teaches English at Georgia State University where he is pursuing a Ph.D. degree in Rhetoric and Composition. His major research interest involves public perceptions of morality, especially with regard to the Temperance Movement in the late 19th century. He is an uncompromising supporter of the Second Amendment and an enthusiastic promoter of legal concealed carry.

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  1. Kalashnikov was a patriot of his country. And since I hated his country, I hated him. Now, after the passage of time and cold reflection, I still hate him and I’m glad he’s dead.

    And please, don’t bore me by telling me that the Soviets killed more Nazis than anyone. Of course they did — but none of those Nazis were killed by AKs.

    Kalashnikov was a hero of the Soviet Union, and an enemy of mankind. Buh-bye.

    • And there you are, the exact example of a man that Mikhail himself would have hated, and any self-respectable firearm enthusiast would hate you for as well: you bringing in politics and acidic opinions into what is simply an eulogy to nothing more than the designer of a firearm. The entire crux of your problem is that said designer and said firearm come from a country that was the proverbial “enemy”.

      I have nothing but disrespect for you childish people who are unable to separate the “politics” from the “firearms”. I may deeply resent communism, and members of my family have an even more bitter taste of what it did to them, but I do not resent the man nor his creation, because neither are responsible for the horror and the suffering that people, or their leaders, may have caused with said creation.

      May you rethink your own words and cease basking in your own asinine opinion as though it was in any way justifiable. Kalashnikov was a patriot, and I respect him for that no matter how wrong or misguided the communist ideals were – or the way the Soviet government interpreted them; he had values and he believed in them, at the very least. Which isn’t something many people can say for themselves.

      EDIT: I have noticed Ralph’s avatar depicts an AK. Either this is hypocrisy, or just plain irony.

      • During the long haul through Stalinism and well through the Brezhnev era Kalashnikov was exactly the kind of person very many of his own countrymen despised, though they had to do so quietly or be shipped off to the labor camps. He was willing to be the poster boy for the big Stalinist machine even, and especially, after Kruschyov made his ‘secret’ speech denouncing the evils of Stalin. Kalashnikov was also the sort of Russian who opposed the return of democracy (short lived) and reforms.

        Americans are wont to be groupies for exotic people whose lives they know from magazine articles. Ask an elderly Ukranian, or Russian weapons engineer of his generation (few remain alive) what they think. He was Party, nomenclatura, and has openly stated he wished for a return of power to more centralized and stronger governments. It is his good fortune that he lived to see Putin in power for 13 years, and the return of the “silovniki.” That would be happiness in his old age. I personally experienced the artifacts of sclerotic Stalinism in Russia during the Breshnev years. I can hardly discourage that sort of thought here in the US (on a still lesser level, so far) if I don’t speak out about the Kalashnikov reality.

      • That’s the thing, I didn’t know the guy myself, so it’s hard to hate him just for being a communist. Hell, I’d have been one too most likely if I were born in the same time and place. More than anything I feel bad for people who are born into those kinds of countries, because most don’t have much of a choice.

    • You hate a man you don’t even know. You’re very, very narrow minded arnt you?

      edit: also, nobody cares, Ralph. Go buy all the ARs you want. Leaves more AKs of all calibers for me, along with all the cheap ammo I can buy.

      • This is a good point. I never knew Hitler. Maybe I should reconsider my feelings and not just give in to my knee-jerk assumptions that he was one of history’s most vile individuals. I guess I’ll rethink Stalin too, because after all, I never knew the men, how can I not like them?

        • Comparing him to Hitler and Stalin? Really? The man served his country in the best way he knew. He didn’t commit any atrocities and he lived rather humbly… If you don’t at least have some repect for worthy enemies…

    • Guys I’ve been trolling this site for quite some time now. I’ve learned that if Ralph hates something, old and crotchety as he may be, he usually has a reason. But that being said, I am still sad for Kalashnikovs passing. Don’t flame him though. Play nice.

    • I hate communism, but two of my dead relatives were Generals and Heroes of the Soviet Union for their actions during World War 2. The rest of my family came to America. Do I hate the ones that couldn’t get out? The ones that had to survive in a regime were anyone could report you and have you sent to Siberia? No, I do not. You do what you have to do to survive in this lousy world, and it’s not like the Russians had a volunteer military, my relatives like many were drafted and did the best they could under horrible circumstances.

    • Ralph,
      Funny how all of these pups that weren’t alive or were not old enough to remember the soviet union think your a bad person for your beliefs. These are the same crowd that think the US was wrong to nuke Japan in WW2 because the Japanese are such kind and nice people.
      The USSR was an disgusting and evil entity that collapsed from its own corruption, incompetency and truly vile belief systems. They murdered their own as well as sponsor the murders of millions of others all over the world. Kalashnikov died a true red commie who never stopped believing in the soviet. Don’t waste tears on this guy.

    • Mikhail Kalashnikov, died the other day.
      Upon arriving in Heaven, he asked to speak with GOD.
      St Peter said, “Sure, go through that door and see Mr Browning.
      He will interview you and see if you are WORTHY of a visit with God.”

    • Like Ralph I am tired of hearing about how the Soviets won the Second World War. Pure Bolshevik propaganda. The Soviet fought a unidimensional war. Yes it was a “titanic” struggle but so what. The United States won the global with assistance from the British Empire and Soviet Union. The US projected immense combat power to every corner of the globe in every warfare environment. It is true that the Soviet Union defeated 75% of the ground forces. Well, the US Army Air Corp destroyed the Luftwaffe with assistance of the RAF. Together the USAAF and the RAF destroyed Germany before a single Soviet soldier set foot inside the country. The Royal Navy defeated the Kriegsmarine with a lot of assistance from the US Navy during the Battle of the Atlantic. The United States also destroyed Japan and its Navy and Air Force pretty much all by itself. Does anyone doubt that had the US not had to fight Japan in theater of war that made Europe look tiny that we could have devoted those resources to building up a level of combat power in Europe that would have swamped the Germans and then left us in position to kick the Russians back to their 1939 if we decided to do so?

      There is no doubt that without the United States Germany and Japan would have the war. We were the essential nation.

      • @Tdiivna

        You really do not understand the history of the Second World War very well. Please come back when you are more qualified to talk about it. Yes, the Soviet Union really could have won the whole war by itself. It was already pushing back Nazi Germany well before the United States and United Kingdom made a dent in it.

    • Just to fuel the flames a little bit… you guys know that Kalashnikov was a lifetime NRA member? And that he held the society of the United States in high regard specifically due to its treatment of firearms?

      “… a banquet that took place in Moscow a few years ago honoring General Kalashnikov who during World War II invented the AK‑47 and it was on the occasion of his 85th birthday. Mr. Putin got up to toast the general. He’s one of Russia’s few heroes. And when he finished the toast, General Kalashnikov got up, looked him in the eye and said, “Mr. President, my dream is of a country like the United States governed by men and women not afraid of an armed citizenry.”


  2. While I don’t share his political beliefs I do envy the design and the belief to better the design to give comrades in arms a better fighting chance. May his ideas inspire others.

  3. it helped that the gun was adopted by a massive military, The AUG and FAMAS were revolutionary (esque) but expensive to build and used by small nations.

    I still wants me one.

  4. I don’t think the AK would’ve been anywhere near as successful if it’d been designed in the US. Or it would’ve been completely different due to a different culture, different manufacturing technology, different education, etc.

    The AK was designed so a peasant farmer with no education could be proficient with the rifle in a minimal amount of time. The AR/M16 was built for a reasonably well educated soldier with some experience with firearms already, and the US Army could afford the extra time for training.

    • I agree with you 100%. Most Soviet soldiers were not looked at as being more than part of a wave attack. Still, I’d like to have seen what kind of outcome he would have got with the ability to think and design more freely like Mr. Stoner. The AK design would have probably advanced much faster and maybe would be a much better erector set type rifle like the AR by now.

  5. “his ‘best-of’ package proved as powerful as the Russian winter at protecting the Mother Land”

    The AK in Russian hands never defended the Russian homeland, but was only used to invade and repress other countries (Czecho directly, Poland and others in mixed forces). To boost instability and arm their foreign proxies, they gave away millions of the rifles.

    At the time Kalashnikov was ‘designing’ the weapon many many of the very best Russian mechanical, aircraft, and electrical engineers were imprisoned in factories that were part of the Gulag Archipelago, though they were located in Moscow, Gorki, and other cities. Solzhenitsyn describes their plight intensively in his Archipelag Gulag. Kalashnikov was in a very real sense a poster-boy for the AK-47 chosen for his common and pro-Stalin background: Many highly skilled engineers, including imprisoned engineers, worked on the design, copying bits from a number of foreign weapons and engineering them for economy and lightness together with reliability.

    • >> The AK in Russian hands never defended the Russian homeland

      This is stupid. The very fact of existence of AK in the hands of Russian soldiers defended the country. 90% of all individual defensive gun uses do not involve firing the gun; this is equally true when it comes to countries.

  6. And please, don’t bore me by telling me that the Soviets killed more Nazis than anyone.

    No, the Soviets killed more Soviets that the Nazis….does that matter?

    If one is born to a certain environment then that person must adapt to it! The limitation is in the mind.

    Some times in history the situation a person finds himself in does not hinder his ability to adapt. Such is this. The man was not evil. His weapon of war was not intended to kill. It was intended to protect him and his family…the crux of our discussion.

    On a lighter note…His invention is the Crapper of firearms! No one wants to see you use it but you are happy it’s there when needed!

    I have 2 in my home……BOTH!

    • Sorry, but I have to fact-check you on that one – Soviets did not kill more Soviets than the Nazis. Even taking the highest estimates for number of Ukranians who died during the famine, Nazis still are ahead by quite a few million. The Soviet regime was bloody and autocratic but it was not ( in general ) genocidal.

      • Exact numbers of the Soviet citizens killed either directly by or through the policies of general neglect (famine) caused by their political system and leaders are impossible to determine but certainly number in the tens of millions in the Ukraine alone. It could further be argued that while many millions more were killed by Nazis a significant percentage of those died due to the military “tactics” of Stalin and his generals which to a great extent relied upon sending in massive waves of poorly trained and inadequately armed troops right up to the capture of Berlin.

        One of Zhukov’s tactics was to send the men of “Penal Battalions” marching across minefields to detonate the mines before the attack wave jumped off.

        As for AKs defending the Motherland, in the years after they were issued, did ANYONE think it was a good idea to invade Russia? I think that exemplifies a successful defensive use of the weapon.

        • I think the biggest reason nobody attacked the Soviet Union during the time his invention was used is due to nukes, not AK’s. His invention was the small arm of choice of the economically challenged world but not the big stick that held back any real threats to their existence.

  7. Just because someone may believe in dangerous and evil ideals doesn’t make them stupid.
    The Banality of true evil is the greatest horror of all.

    At least he’s one communist who didn’t get elected to the White House…

  8. Having vented on the role of Kalashnikov, I do understand the interest people have in “the peasants’ rifle.” The mystique is as natural as that which developed around the Walther PPK and other weapons.

    What bothers me is the naivete of Americans about how the Soviet industrial economy, including the Central Scientific Design Bureau, functioned during the Stalin era and beyond. There were no one-man bands. Not even close. The same management and PR methods can be seen throughout the Soviet aircraft industry. There were elaborate competitions. Even they were stage-managed for political reasons.

    The brutality of the Stalin era, and carried into action by his minions, was unimaginable, except perhaps by the mind of Mao.

  9. The USSR is gone , Mikail became a entrepreneur and a capitalist afterward , he was stuck in the system and had no choice , but when he it did come down to a choice he chose the example from the West.As for his engineering standpoint , he was a self made man , he might could be called the John Moses Browning of Russia , he was responsible for many weapons designs , and some inventions not connected with firearms , he will be missed . Be prepared and ready.Keep your powder dry.

  10. Kalashnikov may have had some hand in getting the AK-47 to the selection board, but the facts indicate that the design was inspired, influenced, and implemented more by Hugo Schmeisser than by MK. And before you get your butt rage flowing, think about this; who is more likely to design a new rifle? A German weapons designer who already designed a rifle that incorporated many of the AK’s features? Or a Russian tank mechanic?

  11. I do not like communism, not one bit of it. I love the AK for what it is, and I admire the man who’s brainchild it was. As a man who staunchly promoted and defended his beliefs (regardless of how back-asswards I think they were), I have much respect for him, enemy of what I love though he may have been.

  12. This debate does remind me of an old song by Tom Lehrer…

    “Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down?
    That’s not my department,” says Wernher von Braun.

  13. Maybe Mr. K was a talented designer. Genius? I doubt it. If you put an STG44 and an AK47 side by side there is an uncanny resemblance. Much as Mr. K claims he didn’t copy the design, bullsquirt. Not only that, Mr Schmeisser (STG44 designer) was captured by the Reds and ‘assisted’ with firearms design at Soviet factory #74. Heck, even the 7.62×39 is eerily similar to the 7.92×33 Kurz. (both designed in 1943) No designer ever works by himself and in all the interviews Mr. K gave, I never once heard him give credit to any others for help on the AK47. I may have missed it, but it sure wasn’t a common thread.

    While I respect his work as a designer and working for his homeland, our sworn enemy BTW, he was a committed communist, period. The only good commie… is still a dead commie.

    • Look at the guts of both guns and bow your head in shame. The AK is actually a continuation of much earlier Russian gas piston designs. In fact, the Russians had a battle rifle similar to the Garand ready for final trials in the late 30s, Barbarossa put a damper on further battle rifle development. The AK-47 is a development on Russian doctrine that saw PPSHs replacing Nagants as the issue infantry weapon for a large percentage of Russian troops by 1945. While the layout may be similar to the 44, that’s where the similarity ends.

      • That is SVT-40. One of the problems was that your average Russian peasant couldn’t take care of it. That is genius of th Kalashnikov. It is a simple weapon that anybody can maintain.

  14. Speaking of C.J. Chivers, maybe more people should read his book. Kalashnikov didn’t “invent” the AK, at least not in the sense that westerners would understand. He copied other designs, ripped off other peoples ideas, and was a member of a team that came up with the AK. The AK story was, by his own admission, part propaganda and part truth. The Soviets themselves have stated that they embellished/created the story of the design of the AK to fit into a story that furthered the party narrative of the strength of the simple communist worker. Kalashnikov deserves to be remembered as a veteran of WW2, and as a member of the AK design team. But the AK wasn’t his creation.

    • Exactly. And names of many contributing engineers were completely suppressed due to their “political crimes.” Kalashnikov worked through an era in which ‘Tractor’ was called a great novel, and the Union of Soviet Writers was, in Solzhenitsyn’s words “the first writers union in history devoted to the approbation of slavery.”

  15. “In my case, yesterday’s news of one particular dead Commie gave me pause, not because I’ve suddenly developed a soft spot for a political system I believe is evil, but because I think it marks an occasion where one individual’s contribution to mankind can be viewed as a telling data point in the larger discourse surrounding human governance.”

    Crossing the threshold of a half century and living the experience of “larger discourse”. Young ones have little understanding of how two governments were locked in battle for how people are governed. Fortune for us, with its faults, our way prevailed.

    Don…the tribute to the man is well founded and you understand its not about the gun. It’s an instrument to shepherd in or preserve a way of life.


    • “Fortune for us, with its faults, our way prevailed.”

      In the short term, yes. Long term, the jury’s still out. The pattern for most democratic governments seems to be a long, slow march toward more socialist leanings, once the political class learns they can buy votes with taxpayer money. It may be a less totalitarian (but still completely loathsome) version of collectivism that awaits us at the end of the road.

      • Stinkeye,
        Look at what happened in Rome and your point is proven. The government basically put the masses on welfare and built coliseums to keep them entertained. Slothfulness, gluttony and debauchery was encouraged just so the politicians could stay in power. And the end was foretold. Then just as now, anyone stepping forward to defend the realm was first called stupid and then a HERO.

  16. How many weapons of his design are in American hands right now? Passively defending freedom, ready for a day when they may be needed in a more active role.

  17. I wonder if Liberty in the United States is suffering as a direct result of the end of Communism.???

    Something to be said about becoming the Monsters we Slay….

    It seems plainly obvious to me that America was more free when it was surrounded by Nazi’s and Communists. Perhaps because we were able to identify ourselves as being what “they” were not. Now the United States is creeping ever closer to becoming them.

    Kalashnikov built a great gun and I love to shoot it. If the world were falling apart, that would be my “go to gun”. Millions of people in America and around the world agree.

    • Interesting statement. Reminds me of of an another. How do you destroy the Jews?…leave them alone, they”ll do themselves in. My hope is we do not suffer likewise.

      While in Military Engineering school, I ran across a book published in the early sixties. Outlining when the super powers lay down their arms, the next war will be with the Muslim, because they are incapable of accepting the idea of freedom we have in the west. They cannot separate individual will within tenants of their faith. Quite an insight, just 50 years ahead of his time.

      An example….After the first Gulf war, I became friends with Kuwait’s. After awhile they pop the question of what religion. When I replied none, great conversation amongst themselves, eyes wide…one asked me what religion were my parents and I replied Christian. More conversation then a declaration…you are Christian because of my parents. That moment I was yoked to a faith by birth, not by choice and finally understood though sitting feet apart, the cultural divide wider than a bridge could gap.

      My hope is that reason can prevail so we don’t have to fight the next war. This will allow us to focus on the anti gun tribe.

    • Part of the problem is we spent decades building a huge intelligence/military infrastructure to counter communism. With all the big communist powers either gone or transitioning to capitalism, the politicians had a choice to either dismantle that machine or point it at us. Meanwhile, we allowed them to distract us with bullshit social issues and a farcical pretense of a two-party system. And thus, the modern American police state was born.

      • There are politicians who consider the chance to re-direct the intelligence and military apparatus at us a blessed opportunity. The diverse private civilian economy in the US, in the days when anti-trust legislation and enforcement was still in place, assured us of a level of freedom an intensively corporate/government unity could not. Those days are gone. Now we are growing a domestic reality in which, as the President said several years ago, we need a domestic army as powerful as the one created to counter threats overseas. Why? Because corporations want to dump their costs on the general taxpayer (healthcare) and the central government wants its desired arrangements to be created and implemented without fear of citizen ideals. Such a unity of interest is not easily countered, when the money to exert influence is quite obviously in the hands of….the large corporations and the government. It is expensive in time and money to organize. The most ordinary citizens are not capable of organizing effectively. The best educated and brightest citizens are elevated into highly-paid professions or government positions in part for efficiency but in part to secure their loyalty to the big machine. The odds, in other words, are stacked against restraints on central power.

  18. It’s as true today as when it was coined; ‘The only good communist is a dead communist’.

    How many millions must live in slavery and be murdered before a system is called evil? Kalashnikov was true to his ideals alright, and they were pure evil. I suppose he rates a few points for being honest about being a sociopathic, tyranny supporting statist.

    As I read the comments I can almost guess the age of the poster. We old ones know, the USSR was an evil empire that openly admitted it wanted to enslave the entire world. It was a system that starved millions of it’s own people to death and destroyed the social fabric, sanity and success of millions more. It was a terrifying thing, a great monolith staring us down and desiring to rob us of our wealth and our freedom. I grew up thinking that if I wasn’t incinerated instantly in a nuclear blast I’d likely die in the fields of Europe fighting poor, ignorant draftees who were forced to fight me for their communist overlords. Never mind the horrors of communism, the Soviet state was a threat to all liberty and humanity and Kalashnikov was an ardent supporter of it. I shed a tear now for all the fear and suffering the USSR has caused for it’s own people and for the entire world but I have no tears for a dead communist, good riddance and may he rot in hell.

    • Was every single soldier in the Confederate Army evil? You asked a question of how many people need to be enslaved\murdered before a system is evil, but didn’t answer it. What about the children killed by drones? I suspect you didn’t answer because it’s easier to be high and mighty if you’re vague so you can call the other guy evil and remain guiltless yourself.

      And I’m old enough to remember the bad old days, contrary to your silly generalizations.

  19. He fought, was wounded, and then continued working to save his country from a foreign invader. How many people here can say they’ve done the same?

  20. More foreigners have been killed spreading democratic socialism than spreading communistic socialism.
    Does that mean we should be glad that Stoner is dead?

    • @Patrick

      I am glad that Stoner is dead. The man created piece of junk weapons which got people killed. Being a weapon designer is no different than being a paramedic or doing any other job where the survival of other people depends upon your performance.

      As for Kalashnikov, the man stuck to his principles and was a true patriot. Those are two truly admirable things.


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