Export was a big deal for Soviet gun works, because it allowed them a chance for something they couldn’t otherwise get – contacts with foreign (preferably Capitalist) countries. People who never lived under the Iron Curtain can’t imagine what it meant to even know someone who routinely went abroad and could bring you blue jeans or the Beatles LP. In every provincial Russian town there used to be a riddle “What’s long and green and smells of consumer products?” (answer: the train from Moscow), but Tula is only a couple of hours ride from the capital (where you could more or less get anything), while Izhevsk is about 1000 miles away from anywhere.
This might explain the obviously higher motivation of Izhevsk gunmakers to make guns for export that apparently helped them to bypass Tula as the nation’s No1 civilian arms producer. IzhMech didn’t only make more guns (especially for export; it looks like there were ten Izh guns exported for every one from Tula) and was quicker to introduce new models (as shown in previous part). The Izhevsk Mechanical Plant became synonimous with ongoing improvement, boosted by the feedback from the importers.
MC 21-12 in Export grade. Photo by Gazetov // http://www.guns.ru
In the Soviet planned economy the makers got almost no real feedback from the consumers. Decisions on what to make and what not to make were made deep inside the Communist bureaucracy, somewhere between relevant Ministries and the planning agencies, and neither factories nor trading companies really had a say. Producers had no obligation to act on customers’ letters of complaints and suggestions, and few opportunities to do so even if they would. But when export began, Soviet gunmakers had to listen to the opinion of foreign partners, who were paying hard currency for their product and knew exactly what they wanted.
One model which was designed exclusively for export and with the feedback from the importers, was the Izh-26. It boasted the features that the Western clients expected to see on a high-end boxlock, including Purdey top bite, spring-set front trigger, solid floor plate, semi-beavertail fore-end, intercepting sears and automatic ejectors. This was the first sample of “hi-end gun features on an inexpensive gun” marketing philosophy which IzhMech adopted for its export range. The effectiveness of this approach is questionable – Izh-26 didn’t seem to enjoy much popularity on the export markets; I was surprised, at least, to find out that the mid-70s catalogue of the official importer into Great Britain, Midland Gun Co, did not feature this model (although it obviously was supplied to the UK). The consumers were probably conserned about reliability of “hi-end gun features on an inexpensive gun”. In any case, selling an upmarket gun requires substantial mamarketing effort, and as far as I can judge, Soviet hunting shotguns were never really marketed in the strickt sense of the word.
In spite of that, by 1970s Russian hunting shotguns were sold perhaps everywhere there was a market for hunting shotguns. I estimate that in 1960s IzhMech exported about 25-30% of the output, and in the 1970s at least 50%. Export became even more important as the shotgun registry laws were introduced in 1976, bringing domestic shotgun sales to near zero.
Russian hunting shotgun making didn’t seem to be impaired even by the 1970s oil crisis. The USSR found oil an easy source of hard currency; Soviet authorities, for some reason, didn’t believe oil prices could ever go down, and began to neglect every industry except oil and defense. Yet, looking on Egor Gaidar’s analysis of the Soviet economy in his “Fall of the Empire”, I can’t help noting that civilian gunmaking was the exception to the rule. On the one hand, it was one manufacturing industry that was profitable. On the other hand, being part of the military-industrial complex, it didn’t suffer from neglect.
TOZ continued its half-slumbered existence, toying with the looks of their hammer guns, from ultra-modern on TOZ-54 back to classic on TOZ-80. IzhMech developed a 20 ga. magnum version of Izh-58MA, and prepared for something completely different – a pump. Izh-81 was scheduled for mass production in 1981 (thus the name). But the USSR invaded Afghanistan, and the consequent economic sanctions closed the access of Soviet guns to their biggest markets. On the other hand, the defense industry got many new orders. The civilian arms industry, both on the export and domestic markets, entered a period of stagnation which lasted until the Perestroyka.